Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Literary Masochism

I recently finished the Dan Simmons novel, Drood. And that is no mean feat, my friends, even for a devoted (and fast) reader like myself. It's 785 pages. I browsed it in a bookshop, weighed it in my hand, and thought, I'm not sure if I should read this or use it as a boat anchor. Thank god for my Kindle, tamer of bursitis-inducing tomes.

Here's how the New Yorker describes Drood.
"In this creepy intertextual tale of professional jealousy and possible madness, Wilkie Collins tells of his friendship and rivalry with Charles Dickens, and of the mysterious phantasm named Edwin Drood, who pursues them both. Drood, cadaverous and pale, first appears at the scene of a railway accident in which Dickens was one of the few survivors; later, Dickens and Collins descend into London's sewer in search of his lair. Meanwhile, a retired police detective warns Collins that Drood is responsible for more than three hundred murders, and that he will destroy Dickens in his quest for immortality. Collins is peevish, vain, and cruel, and the most unreliable of narrators: an opium addict, prone to nightmarish visions. The narrative is overlong, with discarded subplots and red herrings, but Simmons, a master of otherworldly suspense, cleverly explores envy's corrosive effects."
Now, I like history, so Simmons's meanderings into historical trivia about London and Dickens did not bother me overmuch. Simmons clearly indulged himself with the length of this novel, and of course, it suits the period he's writing about.

And I agree, it's a very deftly done portrait of seeming friendship being poisoned by envy. The Wilkie Collins that Simmons portrays is sympathetic - at first. The bombastic Dickens, who was indeed the literary rock star of his time, is pretty condescending to Collins, and you feel both his anger and his impotence over it.

But then, as you get to know him, Simmons shows you that his Collins is actually a nasty piece of work. And then the story shifts from being mostly about the petty slights and insults that two dear friends can inflict upon each other, and takes a turn into a very Collins-esque sort of horror.

So, yes, it could have been cut down quite a bit. But I enjoyed getting to know all the vile twists and turns of this fictional Wilkie Collins. Makes me want to re-read The Woman in White.

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