My name is Wilkie Collins, and my guess, since I plan to delay the publication of this document for at least a century and a quarter beyond the date of my demise, is that you do not recognise my name. Some say that I am a gambling man and those that say so are correct, so my wager with you, Dear Reader, would be that you have neither read nor heard of any of my books or plays. Even so, I would wager my current fortune, such as it is, and all future royalties from my plays and novels, such as they may be, on the fact that you do remember the name and books and plays and invented characters of my friend and former collaborator, a certain Charles Dickens.
I wish Drood had not had such an intriguing beginning. The opening chapters of Drood fooled me into thinking that Drood would be my kind of book. If I hadn't been convinced to buy based on these chapters, then I wouldn't have felt the almost-obligation to finish no matter what. I would say I definitely enjoyed the first third, for the most part; the middle third, well, I began to have some doubts and things began to annoy me; the last third, well, I was forcing myself to finish because I didn't want to fail at having read it. There were times I thought I was going to love this one, and then it started--slowly but surely--to turn to dislike.
Drood may not be for me, but that doesn't mean it won't be for you. Drood didn't work for me for a few reasons: 1) I don't like unreliable narrators 2) I don't like books with no likeable characters 3) I have little tolerance for horror novels. I thought perhaps my love for Dickens and Collins was enough, but, I think the opposite proved true. Because the more Simmons' characters deviated, the more angry I became. I found the narration tedious and repetitive among other things. Readers are reminded in almost every chapter of Collins inferiority complex and jealousy. He rambles on and on about how he's better, so much better, than Dickens. His envy and hatred of his friend gets old really quickly. He picks apart Dickens' books and elaborates on his own. I don't mind the discussion of these books: I've read most of them already and have opinions of my own. But what seemed quirky but charming the first few times became too much by the end. Especially when these two men would bicker it out as to who was best. And then there's Collins constant drug use.
For readers who enjoy dark mysteries or horror novels, this one does have spooky, creepy, horrific moments.
The man was such a convincing fictionalist, not to mention one of the most self-righteous fellows ever to have trod the Earth, that I doubt if he ever confronted and acknowledged his own deeper motivations, except when they were as pure as springwater.
One might have responded that Charles Dickens invariably gave his audiences credit for too much and, through his self-indulgent flights of impenetrable fantasy and unnecessary subtlety, left far too many ordinary readers lost in the thick forest of Dickensian prose.
I am… was… almost certainly always shall be… ten times the architect of plot that Charles Dickens ever was. For Dickens, plot was something that might incidentally grow from his marionette-machinations of bizarre characters; should his weekly sales begin slipping in one of his innumerable serialised tales, he would just march in more silly characters and have them strut and perform for the gullible reader, as easily as he banished poor Martin Chuzzlewit to the United States to pump up his (Dickens’s) readership. My plots are subtle in ways that Charles Dickens could never fully perceive, much less manage in his own obvious (to any discerning reader) meandering machinations of haphazard plotting and self-indulgent asides. Impudent and ignorant people, such as this orphan-whelp Edmond Dickenson, were always saying that I was constantly “learning from Charles Dickens,” but the truth is quite the opposite. Dickens himself admitted, as I have mentioned earlier, that his idea for self-sacrificing Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities had come from my character of Richard Wardour in The Frozen Deep. And what was his “old woman in white” in Great Expectations, the much-ballyhooed Miss Haversham, if not a direct steal from my central character in The Woman in White?
The conversation was mostly from Dickens, of course, but was as animated and higgledy-piggledy as most conversations with the Inimitable.
For years—decades now—the fiction of Charles Dickens had grown darker and more serious, allowing themes to dictate the structure of his novels and causing his characters to fit neatly (too neatly) into the pigeonholes of the overall thematic structure much like library cards might be shuffled into the proper drawer. (This is not to say that even the most serious Dickens novels of recent years had been without humour; I do not believe that Dickens could write something totally devoid of humour, any more than he could be trusted to stay completely serious at a funeral. He was truly irrepressible in that regard. But his topics had been increasingly serious as he abandoned the largely unstructured Pickwickian celebrations of life that had made him the Inimitable Boz and as social critique and social satire—all-important to him personally—had moved more towards the centre of his work. But in Our Mutual Friend, Dickens had created a sustained comedic novel of more than eight hundred cramped pages without striking—as far as I could tell—a single false note. This was incredible. It made my joints ache and my eyes burn with pain. In Our Mutual Friend, Dickens had abandoned the grand motifs of Little Dorrit and Bleak House and Great Expectations and almost completely subordinated his personal and social opinions into a masterful display of language and nuance that came very close to perfection. Very close. The complexity of his characters in this book far surpassed anything he had done before; indeed, Dickens seemed to have resurrected many of his earlier characters and reimagined them with the focus of a newly gained maturity and a newly found sense of forgiveness. Thus the evil lawyer Tulkinghorn from Bleak House reappears as the young lawyer Mortimer Lightwood, but redeems himself as Tulkinghorn never could have.
THE TURKEY WAS good. Some people have written that no one in England had been more responsible in the past decades for turning English families gathering around their tables on Christmas away from the bony and greasy goose and towards the rich, plump turkey than had Charles Dickens. His ending to A Christmas Carol alone seems to have pushed thousands of our previously goosified countrymen over the poultry bodice brink onto the white breast of true turkey feasts.
All authors’ public readings are exhausting for the author. A Dickens reading is exhausting for the author and for everyone around him.
Even in the glare of those brilliant gaslights, a strange, iridescent cloud seemed to hover around Charles Dickens as he read from his most recent Christmas tale. That cloud, I believe, was the ectoplasmic manifestation of the many characters whom Dickens had created and whom he now summoned—one at a time—to speak and act before us. As these ghosts entered him, Dickens’s posture would change. He would jerk alert or slump in despondency or laziness as the character’s spirit dictated. The author’s face would change immediately and totally—some facial muscles used so frequently by Charles Dickens going lax, others coming into play. Smiles, leers, frowns, and conspiratorial glances never used by the man who lived at Gad’s Hill flitted across the face of this spirit-possessed receptacle in front of us. His voice changed from second to second, and even in rapid-fire exchanges of dialogue Dickens seemed to be inhabited by two or more possessing demons at once.© 2013 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews