My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I suspect DROOD is the Marmite of novels set in the Victorian era. Like all Simmons’ recent work, it is meticulously researched, but there also lies the problem, for he cannot stop himself from showing us that research on the page – not only the bits that are pertinent to the story, but too many of the bits that are merely interesting, but flow-stopping. As in another Simmons exploration of a literary figure, that of Henry James, in THE FIFTH HEART, we get details of dinner parties, lists of famous literary guests, and explanations of public buildings works that do nothing to further the story.
That said, I enjoyed the book enough to give it four stars, for as a writer, it is a fascinating glimpse into how we tell stories, both to ourselves and our audiences, and also how such stories take shape and form – and a certain degree of reality.
It also touches on something a lot of writers know but don’t talk about – the almost crippling at times green wave of envy and self loathing that comes when one of your friends has wild success. They’re still a friend, you still love them, but there’s that little voice, deep down, willing to commit murder in the face of their happiness… or maybe that’s just me. 🙂
Simmons’ control of point of view and the mechanics of the writing itself are as masterful as ever. The narrator is a fully realized character, although I doubt the real Wilkie Collins was quite so unreliable as portrayed here, for the prodigious quantities of opiates consumed would surely have left a man quite unable to write such great works as The Moonstone and The Woman in White.
His friendship with Dickens, and the way it affects Collins and his work, are nicely depicted, and there are some glorious set pieces, in a train crash, in the sewers under London, and in the descriptions of Dickens’ live performances.
You don’t need to have read either Collins’ or Dickens’ work to appreciate this book, but it does help to have done so, to provide context for a lot of the conversations between the writers, and also the final mystery of Drood himself.
I did like it, and it might have got five stars, if it had been two or three hundred pages shorter and tighter.