Drood was the first book I finished reading this year and I do hope I’m going to read better books than this, this year. My complaints about it are:
- It’s too long
- It’s too wordy
- It’s too full of facts described in great length
- It’s too full of Wilkie Collins
- It’s too full of hallucinatory nightmares, involving in particular a black beetle scarab.
I began to dislike all the characters, in particular Wilkie Collins, but then I realised this is fiction, not biography and I disliked it even more for initially lulling me into thinking this is what Collins and Dickens were like. But perhaps that’s a good point – I began to believe what I was reading. I began to believe Dickens and Collins were involved in trying to find Drood, that Drood really existed, that he wasn’t just a figment of Dickens’s imagination, or Collins’s opium induced nightmares and that Collins actually planned to kill Dickens.
Wilkie comes over as a bombastic hypocrite full of his own self-importance and with a chip on his shoulder as far as Dickens is concerned. He’s not a well man, riddled with rheumatic gout, living with a woman he refuses to marry and with a mistress who has three children by him. He sees a green- skinned woman with teeth like long, yellow curved tusks who wants to fling him down the stairs and he is haunted by the ‘Other Wilkie’. He takes laudanum by the jugful, but insists the Other Wilkie has been with him all his life and is not a laudanum-induced dream. The Other Wilkie sits and watches him, lunging for the pen as Wilkie writes and eventually writing his novels for him.
Drood as portrayed in this book is horrific, a half-Egyptian fiend, who, according to Inspector Field is a serial killer. I suspect that this bears little relationship to Dickens’s Drood. I haven’t read The Mystery of Edwin Drood, but having read Drood, I feel I really should.
The plus points for Drood are that it does contain some vivid descriptions bringing the period to life for me – the slums of London, the train accident at Staplehurst and the fantastical “Undertown” with its miles of tunnels, catacombs, caverns and sewers are good examples. It has also made me keen to read more books by Dickens and Collins and biographies of them. There is a list of biographical and other sources in the Acknowledgements at the end of the book, so I’m adding some to my wishlist such as Dickens by Peter Ackroyd.