Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Listened: "Drood" by Dan Simmons

Listened: Drood by Dan Simmons, 2009, OverDrive donwload.

I listened to Simmons's The Terror a few years ago and loved it.  John Lee narrated The Terror too
The best of historical fiction with another great performance by John Lee.  Another nonfiction shielded in fiction.  A long book whose plot covers several years.  A mixed, fictional biography of Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.  The novel is narrated by Wilkie who says the piece was meant to available after 100 years.

Charles Dickens survives a rail wreck in England afte returning from a trip to France with his secret mistress.  Dickens's rail coach is still on the tracks and he descends an embankment to try and assist in the rescue.  Dickens tells his good pal Wilkie Collins that Dickens met a strange man at the wreck.  A tall, extremely pal man in a black coat and stovepipe hat.  The man called himself Drood and had no eyelids and no nose.  He mentioned he was traveling to the slums of London.

Dickens and Collins travel to the slums to look for Drood. Drood is a mysterious character with all sorts of legends about him.  A retired police detective has been hunting Drood for years and claims Drood is responsible for over 300 murders.  Drood is supposedly almost 100 years old, born in Egypt, murdered in London and brought back to life.  Drood lives in the underworld of London below the slums and even the sewers.

Wilkie and Dickens dance around their trip to find Drood and their various written and spoken performances.

Things happen with lots of atmosphere and history.  The awful sewers of London.  Wilkie's writing career and absurd family life.  Dickens's writing career and absurd family life.  Drood's looming presence.  Blackmail by retired detective after Drood. Collins is captured by Drood and put under his control.

That's enough plot recap because there is a lot of plot and story in a 30 hour narration.

Collins is an asshole.  An asshole and a half.  He is conceited, classist, jealous, paranoid, selfish, rude, misogynistic, and several other unsavory adjectives.  He refuses to marry a long term live-in mistress and pretends she is a servant in his home.  He has a second mistress hidden from the first in an apartment paid for by Collins.  Collins has weird love-hate relationship with Dickens driven by professional jealousy.  He alternately praises Dickens skills while comparing Collins book sales and publisher advance payments versus Dickens.  He seems to despise Dickens's behavior of kicking his wife out of their home and carrying on with a much-younger and secret mistress.  But, Collins acts no better - and likely worse.

Collins is in his early forties but rheumatic, gout ridden, overweight and dependent on heavy does of laudanum. He eats way too much.  He sluts around in Paris during a business trip.He drinks too much.  He is self-absorbed and narcissistic.

Many hints of things to come during the novel.  Of what seems to be Collins's subconscious bleeding through.  Some of what Collins sees appears drug induced hallucinations and black-outs - green skinned woman on his stairs, an alternate Collins who takes his written work and revises it.  How much of Wilkie's experiences are drug induced hallucinations.

1.  Reminder: make sure the digital audio player is not set to 'shuffle' when listening to an audio.  You'll skip forward 22 chapters and wonder if the narrative jumped forward in time or, maybe, you were not listening closely as you jogged on the track at Lakeside.
2.  There is a tie-in between this and The Terror.  Collins and Dickens wrote and performed a play based off the voyage.  I wonder if Simmons discovered this while research The Terror and became interested in Dickens.
3.  Money issues at the time.  Collins often wrote his novels with stage productions in mind.  Dickens made a crapload of money on his speaking tours - I remember that piece of history.

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