I think Drood by Dan Simmons is one of the most frustrating books I've read in a while, especially as it starts so promisingly. It is a strong concept, mixing fact and fiction , our narrator is Wilkie Collins (author of the Moonstone and Woman in White) who takes us on a journey with his friend and literary rival Charles Dickens, into the Victorian London underworld a land of poverty, crime, opium addiction, hypnotism, cults, serial killers,murder, the supernatural and madness. As you'd expect from the author of the Moonstone, his tale is told in a high gothic style.
When Charles Dickens , at the peak of his powers, is caught is a train crash, he is one of the few unscathed and in dealing with the dying and injured he comes across the shadowy Drood , devoid of lips and eyelids and dressed in top hat and dark cape, he instils in Dickens a sense of dread. Dickens enlists the help of his friend Collins to track down the elusive Drood which soon turns into an obsession that seems to take over Dickens's soul. Collins at first is a reluctant helper, but slowly he gets sucked further and further into Drood's world that slowly the obsession becomes his own, an obsession that is born form an almost Salieri like jealousy of Dickens
Simmons has made Collins a fascinating narrator, pompous, arrogant and self inflated , he shows all the qualities and traits that he uses to justify his growing hatred of his best best friend. The changing relationship between Dickens and Collins, as professional rivalry becomes something much darker, is well handled and the passages with the just the 2 of them are among the best in the book
Simmons manages to build a great sense of foreboding and populates his book with a cast of grotesque characters that would have fitted in perfectly to a Dickens novel. However, this constant building of dread is difficult to pull off over 800 pages and as a result the middle part if the novel drags so that by the time the ending comes there is a sense of ...is that it?
What starts as part of Collins character but ends with the plot tied in knots is how unreliable a narrator Collins proves to be. With his imagination , his physical illnesses , his opium addiction and his mental instability time and time again you aren't sure if what has happened is real or simply in Collin's fevered head. No doubt there are clues a plenty and a couple of solutions are offered , but by the end I was past caring.
Apparently Guillermo Del Toro has the film rights. I think he needs to make a decision , is this the ramblings of a bitter , drug addicted novelist of a visit to the gothic heart of evil as 800 pages of guessing gets a tad tiresome. What is frustrating is that there is a sneaky feeling that if I re read it a lot would become clearer , but life's too short
What could have been a great 400 page novel was an 800 page bit of a mess