Friday, March 5, 2010

My cupcakes...

...bring all the feds to the break room.

I have a whole lot of book reviews in the pipe, and one book I can't wait to finish so I can review it. But in the meantime:

Did you hate reading Dickens in high school? Wonder why he was so verbose while plowing through Great Expectations? (Hint: he was being paid by the word.) Well, Dan Simmons' Dickens is a womanizing, adulterous, callous, dishonest, and egotistical douche, so this may help you exorcise some of that residual hatred.

Simmons' Drood is a sprawling, intricate novel, rich with both meticulous historical detail and complex, unpredictable characters. That none of them are particularly likeable is to Simmons' credit. His gouty, egotistic and insecure narrator, novelist Wilkie Collins, is thoroughly repugnant, yet his journeys through underground London in search of the mysterious Drood are nail-bitingly tense. Is Drood real? Who cares? The novel is a twisting joyride, even though it's never quite clear if the events are part of Collins' laudanum-fueled hallucinations or not.

After returning from a deadly train crash, Dickens enthralls his friend and confidant Collins with his tale of meeting Drood, a nightmarish character who Dickens is determined to track down in the backstreets and sewers of London. Enlisting the help of a private detective and an assortment of drug addicts and beggars, Dickens and Collins scour London in search of Drood, although Collins is never quite sure if Drood exists or is a product of Dicken's imagination and penchant for playing elaborate tricks.

As Collins' mental faculties erode and his dependence on laudanum increases, the specter of Drood seems to coalesce over the men as Collins becomes obsessed with unraveling the secret of Drood. At the same time, his corrosive jealousy of Dickens drives him to madness, and Collins' hallucinatory world starts to mesh with the real one, with disastrous (and fatal) consequences.

Simmons' writing is labyrinthine and the book may be frustrating to those hoping to unravel the mystery of Drood, but the book's twining plot and cleverly crafted dialogue are ultimately the prize, not the identity of Drood (if he exists). Simmons also excels at exposing the hypocrisy that runs underneath Victorian England, much like the sewers into which Collins and Dickens descend in search of Drood. Rather than expecting a prize at the end, readers are better served to just enjoy the ride.

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