Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yet Another Brilliant Dan Simmons Novel

On the way to and from Cleveland this weekend, Critter picked up the audio book edition of Dan Simmons' new novel Drood.

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

In brief, Dan Simmons sets out to solve Charles Dickens' unfinished masterpiece The Mystery of Edwin Drood, although in this case, the mystery is not so much the unfinished ending as it is why the novel went unfinished. If you've read any Dan Simmons, then you know that his "thing" is imaginitively weaving classical literature and history into his fiction (and if you haven't ready any Dan Simmons, then please stop reading this blog and just pick something off the bookstore shelf at random, or, if not at random, then just read Hyperion). In construction, Drood is very much like Simmons' prior novel The Terror in that he takes the known facts of the last 5 years of Dickens' life, and uses them as a skaffolding upon which to build a deeply disturbing story. Drood is in the form of a fictional memoir of those five years, as written by Dickens real-life close friend and collaborator, Wilkie Collins. The resulting novel is a bit like Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus by way of David Cronenberg's film adaptation of Naked Lunch. More than that, I shall not say.

I had never heard of Wilkie Collins (Critter had, of course), but one of the many advantages of living in sin with a literature teacher is that tonight I'll be reading a hard bound collection of Victorian fiction that includes Collins' short story "A Terribly Strange Bed." This is a particular delight for me, as I recently learned that the Terribly Strange Bed is now located at a quaint bed and breakfast in the Shambles district of Chicago.

(Incidentally, for those of you who do not have a library lined with cherry bookshelves, each filled to over-flowing with literature of every stripe, I suppose you could just read the story here. Seriously, though... consider shagging a literary professional.)

I should also say that Simon Prebble's reading of the novel is superb. One of the key plot elements of the story is the series of theatrical readings that Dickens performed immediately prior to his death. Dickens was famed for being able to personify his characters in voice and action, and Prebble shows a similar skill at presenting the many characters in the novel.


Mark said...

Glad to hear it's good. Did you reread the Dickens first, and if so did it help/matter in your enjoyment of the Simmons novel?

Bittersweet Sage said...

Alas, I couldn't "reread" The Mystery of Edwin Drood, because I haven't read it yet. Critter loves the musical, though, so I am familiar with the story. All of that aside, I think that Simmons' Drood is good whether or not you know the Dickens book, but it is even more enjoyable if you know Dickens' characters. In Simmons' novel, Dickens (the character) bases his Edwin Drood characters on the "real" people of London... except, of course, that those "real" people are fictitious characters that Simmons created based on Dickens' novel. Fun!