Drood by Dan Simmons

As he travels home to England, Charles Dickens is caught in a terrible train accident, in which his is the only carriage that makes it to safety. While he attempts to help the dying and wounded, he makes the acquaintance of the mysterious and horribly disfigured Drood. So begins an obsession that occupies the remaining few years of Dickens’ life. Who or what is Drood? Throw in the idea that this story is narrated by Wilkie Collins, sometime participant, sometime bystander in Dickens’ adventure, and the book was very tempting.

And alas, so far, is very disappointing. Bit of a drawback having Collins as your narrator if you aren’t nearly as good a writer as Collins. Fair enough trying to get around that by skipping the whole Victorian pastiche angle. But then, you can’t have it both ways and have your faux Collins addressing ‘Dear Reader’ with repeated mention of the fact that the reader is 100 or so years in the future, plus heavy-handed attempts at wondering what life will be like then.

Also, can we assume that a reader interested in a book titled Drood is going to have a passing knowledge of at least Dickens, and therefore Victorian London, and we all know about the rivers of sewage, the Great Stink, and other ‘Top 10 facts everyone should know about Victorian London.’ All right, all right, you’ve done your research, can we get on with the plot already? No? Ok, I’d love another para on Bazalgette.

You may have gathered I’m not enjoying this book. Here’s why:

“The catacombs,” said Dickens. “The ancient underground spaces of a monastery crypt. The Roman loculi before that, even deeper here, almost certainly beneath the Christian catacombs. 

I did not choose to ask what “loculi’ meant. I had the sense that I would learn its dark etymology soon enough.

Excellent, Dan, thanks for defining ‘catacombs’ for me. Thank the gods I won’t be kept in too much suspense about the meaning of ‘loculi’.


“…Do you remember the fate of Lord Lucan?”

I stopped by a lamp post and tapped the paving stones with my stick. “Lord Lucan? The Radical M.P. who was found murdered years ago?”

“Horribly murdered,” agreed Inspector Field. “His heart ripped out of his chest as he was staying alone at his estate – Wisetone, it was called – in Hertfordshire, near Stevenage. This was in 1846. Lord Lucan was a friend of your literary acquaintance and Mr Dickens’s old friend Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Lord Lytton, and Lord Lucan’s estate lay only three miles from  Lord Lytton’s own Knebworth Castle.”

Well, blow me down, look at the all info crammed into that little exchange. Research, you know, it can’t go to waste. So tell me, Dan, what was Lord Lucan’s shoe size, and the name of his mother’s childhood pet? 

Dolby was an energetic and skilful talker, despite a stammer that disappeared only when he was imitating other people (which he did frequently). His stories centred on theatrical gossip and, except for the slight stammer when he was speaking of himself, were told with almost perfect theatrical emphasis and timing…

I don’t know about you but I think I’ve gathered from the subtext that this guy has a stammer when talking about himself.

Collins’ role in the book, as well as that of narrator, is to be very stupid so that the brighter bulbs can explain the bloody obvious to him.

“Didn’t you see the candle flame flicker, Wilkie?”

If I had, it hadn’t registered…

… “Did you think them dead, Wilkie?” the author whispered.

“Are they not?”

“Did you not see the opium pipes?” he asked softly.

I had not. I did now.

“Did you not smell the opium?”

I had not but I did now. 

And he takes a lot of laudanum, which he goes on about endlessly. Just in case we’re in any doubt, though:

Please understand, Dear Reader of my posthumous future, that everyone in my day uses laudanum. Or almost everyone. … I remember the poet Coleridge, a close friend of my parents, weeping at our home because of his dependency on opium… But also, as I have reminded the few friends who had the bad manners to become censorious about my own dependency on this important medication, Sir Walter Scott used great quantities of laudanum while writing The Bride of Lammermoor, while such contemporaries of Dickens’s and mine as our close friends Bulwer-Lytton and De Quincy use far greater quantities than I.

The above passage actually precedes the one in which Collins is informed that Bulwer-Lytton’s home is Knebworth. Perhaps in his laudanum-addled state he had forgotten. Good of him to drop in that Coleridge was a poet, though, just in case I get him confused with, um, that other Coleridge who isn’t a poet?

Anyway. This book is 771 pages very long. I’m on page 259. Do I really have to read the rest? Does anyone else want it? I’ll send it. 

Author: musingsfromthesofa

I've run out of books. Again.

18 thoughts on “Drood by Dan Simmons”

  1. Damn. This just came in at the library for me. Maybe I’ll stare at it for a few days and then return it.

  2. Eva – And honestly, I’ve tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. But there are so many examples like that.

    Raych – I’m thinking of continuing for the comedy value of the writing. Although that might not get me through the whole thing. Simmons has made Dickens into such an arse.

  3. Well, even Ms. Never Turn Down a Book Offer can’t be made to be interested in this one, although I was until you came along with the quotes. I need someone to do that for me more often. It would make reading decisions so much easier!

  4. Mus, thanks for starting my work week off with a belly laugh. And saving me from this doorstopper of a howler.

  5. Litlove – I have moved on to The Morville Hours, which is much better.

    Emily – Are you sure? Perhaps I’ll bring it next time I visit and ‘forget’ to take it home.

    Dorothy – Thank you for letting me off! And I can’t blame you.

  6. Ha! You’ve done all of us a great service, just getting through the 200-some odd pages you read. (But that train wreck? Isn’t that the one where he was actually with Ellen Terry and her mother and he tried to cover it up by rescuing other passengers so as to flee from being found with his mistress? Now THERE’s a story I’d like to see fictionalized. Maybe it has been. But not by this guy, please god, and thank you very much).

    I just got an e-mail from the library this morning — my copy of The Morville Hours has arrived! Yippee!!

  7. Bloglily – Yes, it’s that train wreck and he is there with his mistress and her mother. And then they fade into the background again. It probably would make a more interesting story!

    I am enjoying The Morville Hours, for the writing and for the illustrations. And also thinking I must get a Book of Hours.

  8. I read it. I read the WHOLE THING!!! And it was incredibly stupid, but increadibly READABLY stupid. I KNOW!!!! I’m trying to review it right now, but I can’t get past the fact that I both hated it and kept going back to it. As a dog returns to its vomit, I guess.

    Also, I feel like I am having conversations with real-you and blog-you simultaneously. The intarwebs is so odd.

    Also, Drood was really dumb. I have been reduced to ‘stupid’ and ‘dumb.’ I should hang up my reviewing shoes.

  9. Raych – Blimey, congratulations! I’ll check out your review and hope for lots of spoilers so that I’m not left wondering.
    You are not the only one who has conversations with both of me. I also snared Hobgoblin into helping me do my job. I could start a mini support group for you both?
    See? It was so bad that it has stolen your vocabulary.

  10. That is so funny! And I know the temptation to throw in all the research. It takes a lot of drafts for me to work in seamlessly what is needed and throw out all the rest, fascinating as it is. For my current novel I did gobs of research on the Metis. It was so interesting and so Canadian and it’s all got to go. So sad.

  11. Hi Lillian – Welcome! It sounds as though you have figured out that more is not necessarily better. I much prefer it when an author is clearly so au fait with their subject that the research is just part of the book rather than a layer sitting uncomfortably on top of the story.

  12. Well I see on Dan’s site that Time and Entertainment Weekly, the Times etc has Drood on the top of the Year lists.

    This is what I hate about people
    IDIOTS, the majority of em. You cannot trust a review or recommendation to save your life.

    I love Dan’s Best work but for crying out loud.

    Ok I’ll add my review I had of Drood on here.
    Unedited,(for the sensitives) but thats the way I flow

    Dan SImmons – “The Terror” & “Drood”

    Here’s Two from a Writer who has written some of the best Novels the fantastic
    fields of Fiction has ever seen.

    But there is no Free pass given where time/money are concerned.
    Actually Much like Barker etc, You get less slack when you raise the bar. Those
    expectations can be a bad Mama!

    Simmons has been known to fall in Love with his own words. Especially with his
    Relentless research into True to life events and characters.
    I am guessing that there’s been more then one suicidal editor who has worked
    with King/Barker and Simmons.

    The problem is that his fat bloated works are usually better then most writers
    best efforts.

    STFW’ Doesn’t matter. You should never be so much more in love with your never
    ending pages then the readers your writing for.

    The Terror was a Major Critical Hit and probably was deserving of the awards it
    garnered. The book is still a failure for the fact that if the author decided
    not to continue with inane poppycock bullshit. that no one could really give a
    rats ass about. and instead, just let the story flow lean and mean without being
    bogged down by historical Flab.

    That the author would have had one of the best books the dark side of fiction
    has ever produced.

    His love for his exhaustive research for this doomed expedition by the good ship
    Terror(True name)Even Fucking continues in his totally separate and latest book

    Drood is his 6 degrees of separation via one Charles Dickens. Who wrote a play
    concerning the sad story of the lost ship.

    There is so much that Simmons has learned and decided to tell us about dickens
    that he decides to take this Way over long book to extraordinary Over Bloated
    levels by repeating the last chapter in another view point by the same

    I can not tell you Dear reader more then that. As I have yet to finish the book.
    So upset was I that there is nothing the author can do to repay me for the time
    and disappointment that has been bestowed upon my weary head!

    Nothing he can do to save Drood that is. As His main protagonist Mr. Wilky
    COllins Addiction to the apparent Sublime Opium and Laudanum. I have tasted the
    Sweet addiction of the authors best.of which there is no Finer!

    And Like a executioner. he has me Hook Line and Sinker(the terror)

    Oh The Terror!

    The Terror gets 4 sunken ships outta Five.

    And Drood gets a rating of One Good Page outta Five!

  13. I think you are being unduly unfair on this book and I for one am really enjoying it! So….paaaah!

  14. Hey Sparkymarky, each to their own. I stand by my opinion that it sucked to an almost unbelievable extent, but fair enough if you’re enjoying it!

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