Posted on November 19, 2010 by GRIM
Available at Amazon.com
God, fucking DAMN but Damn Simmons is a lot of hard work to read. I thought Ilium/Olympus was a hard read and that was an advance on the density of Hyperion. He’s hard work to read but in a good way, he makes you think and he’s dense with references to classical (in both senses) literature. Where Hyperion and Ilium call back to more ancient works, Drood calls back to the Victorian writings of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins as well as the obsessions, strengths and weaknesses of both men, woven together with a thread of the supernatural (?) obsessions of the times.
For me, at least, this was a book about what’s real and what’s fiction, about the inevitable jealousy that exists between even great creative individuals if one perceives the other as being even greater or one gets more attention than another from the public or feels that they are being overlooked. The story is told from the position of the ‘lesser talent’ in this partnership between Collins and Dickens, Wilkie Collins.
Wilkie is presented extremely unflatteringly, even though he is the narrator. All the flaws and weaknesses of the historical Wilkie are exaggerated and enhanced in the book, conveying a sense of the character’s arrogance and self-loathing simultaneously. Dickens doesn’t come across that much better, a domineering boor and an exploiter of friendships, controlling and altogether too impressed with himself, buying into his own legend.
The book commences with the rail disaster at Staplehurst, in which Dickens was caught up and which profoundly affected him in his later life. This disaster also introduces the peculiar, mesmeric and supernatural character of Drood, a mutilated underworld boss and master of animal magnetism – a topic which also fascinates Dickens – who hovers amongst the dead of the disaster like a vulture and whose existence begins to have a more and more profound effect upon the life of both Dickens and, more especially Collins.
Collins and Dickens pursue Drood in London’s seedy underworld, Dickens’ ‘Great Oven’ and its more literal underworld, a place of crypts and chambers, of sewers and hidden vaults. While Drood’s power increases, Dickens slowly declines and Collins sinks further and further into opium addiction while he struggles to deal with the pain of his ‘rheumatical gout’.
What is Drood? A shadow? An underworld boss? A mystical kingpin of the occult? An imagined ghost? An hallucination? Despite the revelations on all these possibilities throughout the book you’re left not, quite, feeling sure.
Worth the effort, this is, par for the course, an intelligent, literate, deep novel that’s worth more than one reading to get to the real meat of the horrific story – whichever interpretation of it that you prefer.
Review by James “Grim” Desborough