The Classics Club – Year One

imgpressSo it’s been a year since I joined the Classics Club. I had decided early on that I didn’t want to join the Classics Club since I had so much going on already and a lot of commitments, both connected to which books I wanted to read and the rest of life.
But people kept on writing about the Classics Club and they seemed to enjoy themselves so much that I started to feel left out. I also love making to-do lists (although not necessary doing what they say) so the whole idea of making a list of books I wanted to read, was very appealing to me.
So yeah, I caved and I joined and I made a list of 50 books that I want to read before September 2017.
And now, a year has gone by and where has it left me. I have read 8 books so far which is not quite as much as I would have liked to. But it has been wonderful books – see the list below.

Richard Adams: Watership Down. (5 stars)

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey (4 stars)

Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone (4 stars)

Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo (5 stars)

F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby. (5 stars)

Victor Hugo: Les Misérables. (5 stars)

Toni Morrison: Beloved (5 stars)

Virginia Woolf: Orlando (5 stars)

So yeah, it has been amazing books. Only two of them got below 5 stars – and I’m thinking now that I might have been a bit harsh because I remember them both very fondly. It has just been such amazing reads so I’m really looking forth to the next 42 books on my list. I’ll try to get a lot read during this next year so I’ll be on target with my reading of this list.
So while that has been good, what hasn’t been as good is my general participation level in the club. I have participated in one of the monthly memes, just one. And that is a bit shabby. I’ve never really explored all the wonderful reviews I know has been written for the club by it’s members – and I hope to explore that more during the next year too.
So what I can conclude after this my first year is, that I have read some wonderful books but if I’m not participating more in the various club activities, I could just as well have made a list completely on my own and not be in a club. And that’s a shame. So my goal for the next year is to read many, many more wonderful books from my list and to try and be an active member of the club.

Oh and I promise I’ll write the last reviews soon – it’s a bit shameful that I have only written 4 reviews out of 8 when I loved all the books and really want to convince everyone else to read them!!

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And I did it again … (Book Buying 2013 – part 4)

It’s not like I don’t own enough books. I already have more than 200 books on my to-read list – and this is books I own (we’re not talking about my wish list in this post, that’s even more out of control). Anyway, even though I clearly have more than enough books on the shelves in my living room, I simply can’t resist a good bookstore. And recently, I’ve visited three good bookstores so of course, I had to get something. And I’m actually proud of myself for only buying 5 books. That’s less than 2 books per store so really, I can spin this so I deserve a pad on the back!

So here’s what I bought:

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  • Kate Atkinson: Life After Life. This is one of this year’s new releases that I’m really excited about. A baby is born in 1910 and dies before she can take her first breath. But in 1910, the same baby is born and lives on. How exciting does that sound? And the cover on this edition is gorgeous! And I love this quote on the back cover: What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
  • Adam Johnson: The Orphan Master’s Son. So this is one of last year’s most exciting releases. I’ve been curious about this book ever since I heard about it for the first time. A book taking place in North Korea with a main character who is a rival to Kim Jong II – it is simply not possible not to be excited about this one! And since it has gone on to win the Pulitzer this year. So I’m really looking forward to reading this one!
  • Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird. I read this one back in 2010 and really loved it. I knew that I wanted to get my own copy of it at some point and that this book has the potential to become a favorite of mine. When I saw this 50th Anniversary Edition, I just thought this would be as good a time as any to pick it up.
  • Wilkie Collins: The Moonstone. I read The Woman in White last year and absolute loved it. I also read Dan Simmons’ novel Drood where Wilkie Collins is the main character and among other things talks about the inspiration for The Moonstone. I really want to read this book so couldn’t resist this one either.
  • Julian Barnes: Arthur & George. I have this on my list of books I want to read after having read Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. And I have been wanted to read something by Julian Barnes ever since he won the Man Booker for The Sense of an Ending. I haven’t seen this book in the stores before so I grasped it as soon as I saw it.

So that end’s this latest book buying spree. And it brings my to-read list to 208. And it means that I have bought 24 books this year. I’ve read 6 of them so far so I need to get moving on reading more of them especially since I have a goal of having less books on my to-read list when the year ends than when it began – and I’m not doing so good on this goal…

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Top Ten Favorite New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2012

 So we are getting closer to Christmas and it shows in the Top Ten topics as well. Last week, we listed the books we wished Santa to bring us and this week, we’re looking back on 2012 and listing the best new-to-us authors we’ve read this year. Looking back over the year, I think I’ve read some really excellent  books, I have read some not so good – and I’ve read books by authors, I haven’t read before or even in some cases, haven’t heard of before. So it was relatively easy for me to put together this list. As always, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

  1. Yiyun Li. The Vagrants was the first book I finished in 2012 and it was amazing. I just looooooved it. It was a wonderful book and it made me feel so sad. Both people and animals are hurt in it but it’s so worth reading. Yiyun Li is definitely an author that I will keep an eye out for.
  2. Lionel Shriver. We Need To Talk About Kevin freaked me out. It’s one of those books where you stay up reading it because you have to know what happens, you have to finish it – even though you have to get up early in the morning. It was such a nasty read but also very much worth reading.
  3. Dan Simmons. After finishing Drood, I knew I wanted to read more books by Simmons – especially The Terror because he mentions the story in Drood, and it sounds so fascinating.
  4. Wilkie Collins. Like Simmons, Collins was part of my Dickens-and-Drood reading this year. I grew to really like both Dickens, Simmons and Collins. The Woman in White is such a good book, I just sat there and read and read and read to finish it and find out what happened and I’m so looking forward to  reading The Moonstone.
  5. Jonathan Carroll. Almost all Carroll’s books sounds amazing. I enjoyed The Ghost in Love so much and I just want to read more, more, more. I think Carroll might end up on my favorite authors list some day in the future!
  6. Jonathan Safran Foer. Before reading it, I was convinced that Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close would be good, but I had no idea how good. I already own Everything is Illuminated, which is supposed to be even better, and Eating Animals so I hope to get around to reading these next year.
  7. Mark Helprin. I had never even heard of Mark Helprin before finding Winter’s Tale in a secondhand bookstore. I bought it – and loved it. It’s an incredibly journey you take when you read this novel and the love story and the characters just stay with you afterwards. It’s a huge novel but amazing.
  8. Ken Follett. Of course I had heard of Ken Follett before. Over and over and over. And I really had no desire to read anything by him but a friend had gifted me The Pillars of the Earth years ago so this year, I challenged myself to actually read it. And guess what, I loved it! Despite a weak ending, the novel was so so good and I’m hoping on Santa bringing me World Without End this year.
  9. Iris Murdoch. A friend challenged me to read Murdoch’s The Message to the Planet – and I liked it quite a bit. It’s a novel that makes you think and challenges you and I think some of Murdoch’s other novels will do so even more. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more by her.
  10. Victor Hugo. Les Misérables is one of those classic novels which are rather intimidating. But I had challenged myself to reading it this year and it was an amazing book. It’s huuuuuge but the story of the two lost souls at the center of the book is just beautiful. Hugo can write about sewers in a way that makes you think it the most pretty poetry. Sometimes you feel he has completely lost it but he always manages to bring it all together. And he’s even funny at times.

Related posts:

Clarissa in June

June has been rather thrilling, at least for Clarissa. Or well, as thrilling as Clarissa ever gets. Much has been said by me about Clarissa and the struggle it is to finish it, the repetitiveness of it all, the need for an editor and more, but in June, I must say, Richardson stepped up his game. This has definitely been the best month so far! I have actually been wanting to pick up the book to continue with the story and find out what would happen! And that is because June is the month. This is the month everything has build up to and this is month that will definite everything that is to come.

As always, I start by summarizing what has happened this month but in this month, I’ll also draw some comparisons to Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White. I can’t believe I haven’t thought about the similarities between these two novels earlier!

Lovelace is actually trying to  obtain a marriage license but also still trying to test Clarissa’s virtue and he still wants revenge for (perceived) grievances. Lucky for him, there’s a small fire in the house and Clarissa gets scared and he gets to be in her room while she’s in her bed, in her nightie. He allows himself some freedoms which makes Clarissa beg him to leave her – or to kill her, since her honor is dearer to her than her life. He leaves after extracting a promise of forgiveness from her – and is very impressed with her virtue.

Clarissa is shocked and very angry after this. She cares no longer what others think – Lovelace has made her vile to herself. Even though Lovelace thinks higher of her for her resistance, he still thinks she should forgive him as she promised. She writes him that she will not see him for a week – and he thinks she’s scheming and that if she insists on it, he will have her in his own way.

But for once, Clarissa catches a break. She manage to escape from Lovelace and Lovelace looses it, he’s mad about loosing her and even madder about being outwitted by her. But Clarissa’s escape definitely shows how young and inexperienced she is and it’s really easy for Lovelace to track her down and starts weaving his net again, telling stories to the women she’s staying with that will ensure their sympathy for him, not her. Still Clarissa is resisting him with everything she’s got – and her resistance is almost getting to be too much for Captain Tomlinson too. He’s also starting to have second thoughts and to feel that Lovelace is acting wrong when he pursues Clarissa in this way and don’t just marry her. But Lovelace isn’t done. Since Clarissa already resents him so much, he don’t think she can resent him even more for making one last – and final – attempt at her honor and virtue. And then, he wants her to forgive him – out of love for him…

Since Clarissa’s escape, Lovelace has stepped up his game. He has intercepted a letter from Anna Howe and starts faking letters between the two women, thereby adding to his hold on Clarissa. This has been even more necessary for him since Anna has found out that Clarissa has been living in a whorehouse and suspects Captain Tomlinson to be an impostor. He also succeeds in making the women in the house suspect Anna so they will help him prevent her letters reach Clarissa uninterrupted.

He has two women pretend to be his aunt and cousin and they come and visit Clarissa. They persuade her to come back to London with them to pick up her things. Once they’re back at Mrs. Sinclair’s brothel, they slip out and Clarissa is once again completely in the hands of Lovelace and the women in Mrs’ Sinclair’s house.

And now is the time to stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens because this is the key moment of the book.

Lovelace finally decides to put Clarissa to the ultimate test. He rapes her – with the aid of some kind of medication. He is astonished at her reaction. She sinks into a stupor so deep that he fears for her wit. She stays so for a week before she starts getting better. And when she does, Lovelace is shocked by her reaction. She’s not even close to forgiving him – which doesn’t come as any surprise for anyone who’ve read so far. Lovelace’s friend Bedford is even surprised that she has survived what Lovelace has done to her. And all she wants, is to be locked up in a private madhouse.

She tries to escape again and again. She is rather composed most of the time since she now hates herself more than she hates Lovelace, hates herself for not listening to her family and for not seeing his true colors earlier. But she despises him for robbing himself of his wife’s virtue and swears that she will never ever be his wife. He is mortified that she refuses him – but still schemes. Luckily, Clarissa doesn’t fall for his next scheme that would have made her fall in the hands of an even worse brothel madam than mrs. Sinclair.

When this fails and when Lovelace have to go to his sick uncle, he comes up with another huge scheme, involving all the ladies in the house. However, Clarissa outsmarts them all – and makes Lovelace wants her even more. He goes to his uncle and keeps sending messages to her, trying to get her to name a church.

However, when Clarissa is left on her own in the house with no Lovelace, she finally manages to escape. For good, we take it. And she starts writing letter after letter to find out to what extent Lovelace has tricked her. She writes her friend Anna, she writes Lovelace’s aunt, she writes her old nanny Mrs. Norton – and from everyone she hears, that what Lovelace told her was a lie.

So now we’re at a breaking point in the story. Clarissa has escaped Lovelace but she’s not at all well. She has lost what she valued the most, her virtue and the love of her family. I guess the rest of the book is about how she copes with this.

Incidentally, I just want to point out that for a ver very very wordy book, it sure doesn’t spend a lot of words on it’s climax. This is what Lovelace writes to his friend to announce what he has done: “And now, Belford, I can go no farther. The affair is over. Clarissa lives.” (letter 257). You will be in your full right to feel a bit cheated at this point! Still, the letters leading up to and down from this climax, are just amazing. The letters Clarissa writes in her madness just after, are so tragic and full of sentiment, just heartbreaking. I’m almost positive that this novel is actually worth reading!

How come I’ve never thought about the similarities between Clarissa and The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins? The Woman in White was published in 1860, about 100 years after Clarissa. But there’s a lot of similarities in the stories (and of course in the epistolary format). In both, a women is kidnapped by a very charming scoundrel – and what my thoughts about the similarities have made me think more about, is the extent to which we can trust Clarissa. And Lovelace. What we know of what happens between them, is all told from their points of view – and can we trust that they don’t embellish at times to make themselves look better? Especially Clarissa, in fact, since she has the most to loose … Is Lovelace the only one to blame for Clarissa’s rape? Is it only naivety and a lack of knowledge of men and the world that made Clarissa think she could trust him – or did she think she had virtue enough to change him? Or was she just so much in love that she couldn’t see straight (Anna has several times tried to make her admit that she had fallen in love with him.)

(I know I didn’t write much about the similarities between The Woman in White and Clarissa but that’s because too much will ruin The Woman in White for those lucky ones who’ve never read it. I did write about some of the common themes in Moll FlandersFanny Hill and Clarissa in my recent post about Moll Flanders.)

These are my thoughts about June – and lo and behold, I’m actually looking forward to reading July’s letters!

You can see how the other participants in Terri and JoAnn’s read along are doing here.

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March 2012 – Monthly Wrap Up

In March I continued with my Charles Dickens and Edwin Drood obsession by reading Wilkie Collins The Woman in White and Matthew Pearl The Last Dickens. I also read 3 contemporary fiction novels. It has been quite a nice month with some decent reads. I had planned on reading most of these books and I rarely plan that much ahead with my reading so this was an interesting experience and I kind of liked it.

I had hoped to read 6 books this month but towards the end, I didn’t have the time to really sit down and read. So another month with 5 books. Still – I’m 3 books ahead of my reading challenge goal of 52 books so that’s really great!

  1. Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White. A mystery involving a woman running from an insane asylum. I was so well entertained for most of this book – couldn’t put it down. 5 stars.
  2. Marisha Pessl: Special Topics in Calamity Physics. This was supposed to be somewhat similar to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I think there’s potential in this book but I was not too impressed with it. 3 stars.
  3. Jonathan Carroll: The Ghost in Love. A humorous take on what happens when people stop dying. I really liked this book – it was just too short! I’ll definitely be reading more from this author. 4 stars.
  4. Matthew Pearl: The Last Dickens. What happened when Dickens died? Did he finish his last book or did he die in the middle? His American publisher sets out for England to find out. Some interesting things – but not as good as Dan Simmons’ Drood. 3 stars.
  5. John Irving: The Water-Method Man. I love John Irving’s novels – this was his second and it was so interesting to see how a lot of his familiar themes are already present in this early novel. A great read – but not as good as some of his later novels. 3 stars.

I’ve read 2265 pages this month – but no e-books. The longest book was Wilkie Collins The Woman in White  (672 pages) – this was also this month’s only 5 stars read.

On most of my challenges, I’m doing really well. I haven’t started working on the Haruki Murakami or Neil Gaiman challenges yet but I’ve read 10 out of 25 for my Mount TBR Reading Challenge, I’ve read 5 out of 6 chunksters for the Chunkster Challenge (as well as some extra chunksters that didn’t count). I’m also doing okay with the challenge I’ve set for myself – I’ve read 6 books out of the 25 titles I have planned to read this year and 15 out of a year goal of 52 books. My to-read shelf has 177 books on it – I’m working on getting less books on this shelf and it’s not going very quickly because I’ve bought a few books and read some books from the library, but it’s getting lower at least.

And then there’s Clarissa … Oh yeah. I will post a Clarissa post for March later but for now I’ll just say that although I started March full of enthusiasm and really looking forward to reading a lot of Clarissa, I have been struggling a lot this month. I’m not quite on track but almost and I will get there!

I haven’t all that much planned for April. I plan on reading the books mentioned in my post about my 9-11 theme (I’ve already started with Jonathan Safran Foer Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close which I love – the other two are Don DeLillo Falling Man and Amy Waldman The Submission). I’m not sure what else I’m going to read – whatever I feel like afterwards, I guess. On a somewhat book related note, I plan on watching The Hunger Games tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to that!

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Wilkie Collins: The Woman in White (review)

I really wanted to read a novel by Wilkie Collins after reading the Dan Simmons novel Drood where Collins is the narrator. Collins talk a lot about his books and how they compare to Charles Dickens’ novels in this book so I wanted to see for myself. I choseThe Woman in White since I’ve heard a lot of good about it. So I got it from the library and I’m so glad I did. I ended up reading more than 350 pages in a day just to figure out what happened (and after having kids, that doesn’t happen often).

Collins doesn’t waste any time in this novel. The novel begins with Walter Hartright being engaged as a drawing teacher to two young women, residing at Limmeridge House. Afterwards, he walks home from his mother’s late at night and meets a strange woman dressed all in white. This woman starts the mystery in this book – on page 23. Walter helps her to get to London where she gets in a cab and drives away. He later overhears two men talking about her and how she has escaped from an insane asylum.

When he arrives at Limmeridge, he gets kind of a shock when he sees the young lady he’s supposed to teach how to draw. This young lady, Laura Fairlie, turns out to have a striking resemblance to the woman, Walter met on the road to London. Walter then confides in Laura’s half sister, Marian Halcombe, and tells her about the woman in white – especially because the woman mentioned having at one point been happy at Limmeridge House.

Now Marian isn’t your typical heroine. She has the most beautiful figure – but an ugly face with a mustache. Marian is almost masculine and spends the entire novel making excuses for her sex. My favorite one: ‘Being, however, nothing but a woman, condemned to patience, propriety, and petticoats for life /…/’ (p. 198). I’m not quite sure what Collins wanted to say about woman with this novel – yes, Marian is resourceful, intelligent and wonderful – but she’s ugly and masculine, almost a man. And Laura, her beautiful sister, is sweet and kind, but weak and without the courage to do much for herself. So his view on women doesn’t seem to be too positive – nevertheless, he created a heroine that men lined up to marry when the novel was first published.

Walter of course falls in love with Laura, but unfortunately, Laura is engaged to marry Sir Percival Glyde. Of course, Sir Percival Glyde turns out to be somehow involved with the woman in white – and in fact, she tries to stop Laura from marrying him. But there’s no proof that there’s something wrong with Sir Percival so even though both Laura and Marian feels something is off, the marriage takes place.

And now the action really goes into overdrive. Who is the woman in white and what is her connection with Sir Percival? What is Sir Percival’s secret that he’s doing everything in his power to protect? How is Count Fosco involved – besides being Sir Percival’s best friend?

I must admit that I just fell under the spell of this novel. The actual secret and much of the plot, is nothing new. But the way Collins does it, just drags you along for an exciting and excellent ride. I really loved this book. There were twists and turns and even though I did guess some of the twists, I was still intrigued enough to just read, read, read. No wonder people where queuing up to get each new installment as they were published weekly originally! I’m glad I didn’t have to wait but could just read whenever I could find the time.

This is a epistolary novel. It’s written from the points of view of various characters – some have a lot to say (especially the two main characters Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe). They write journals, diaries, letters, tombstones – and all this comes together and creates a mystery where we are constantly trying to keep up with what’s actually happening. We don’t know more than the characters do. Writing in this way, gives the character the opportunity of speaking for themselves. We are creating the story out of the various testimonies and eye witness accounts we receive.

I’ve read some review stating that there are several narrators who are unreliable. And yeah, there are definitely some narrators who don’t tell the truth as we get to know it – or at least as we think we know it. But they believe they tell the truth – they tell the truth as they saw it. They are not (all) trying to mislead, they simply don’t have all the information we do. For instance, the housekeeper thinks one of the guests in the house is all nice and friendly – and as long as he is kind to her, how should she know otherwise? I know I can’t trust all these, but my definition of an unreliable narrator has probably hitherto been that it was someone who was either deliberately trying to mislead or who was influenced by drugs, alcohol or suffering from mental illness. I guess I need to change my definition – since I definitely can’t trust all of these! One can even question to what extent it’s possible to trust Walter Hardright himself, the main narrator. He gets the chance of a lifetime to dispose of his rival – and the question is whether he takes it or not, whether he tries to save the man or not. Also, he doesn’t try to get justice from a legal standpoint. He becomes a regular vigilante and goes after what he thinks is justice. Can we trust what he says? Is he just trying to justify that he took action in this way?As a first-time reader, I at least was so caught up in the plot that I trusted Marian and Walter completely and just read and read and never looked back. I think this novel will benefit greatly from a reread where I’ll be more able to look beneath the layers of deceit and look behind all the action to try to discover what’s really going on.

In some ways, this remind me of the movie The Ususal Suspects. When I first saw it, I doubted everything about who Kaiser Soze really was – when I saw it the second time, I had no doubts. If I see it a third time, who knows what I’ll think? I think it will be the same with this one – your perception of it will change by where you are in life at the moment, you sit down and read.

For some reason, this is my year of reading epistolary novels. I read We Need to Talk About Kevin earlier this year – loved it – and I’m reading Clarissa right now. Both written completely in letters. I didn’t plan for this to happen but I think this way of writing a novel really works. You feel like you get under the character’s skin, you feel that you are part of their lives. I think that this way of writing is not used as much anymore – and it’s a shame, which We Need to Talk About Kevin is a perfect example of. In this novel, you really got to understand the mother’s frustration and doubt about herself when faced with her son being a high school shooter. But this was a one way communication. In Clarissa, we get letters from several parties and thereby, we get to see the thought processes of several characters. And although I’m only a little way into this huge novel, I love it so much so far. The Woman in White is another take on how to write an epistolary novel – with a combination of letters, diary entries and more with not all characters being enthusiastic about having to write down what they think and remember. Another way to gain insight.

Besides being an epistolary novel, this is also generally regarded as the first sensation novel. It combined the ‘thrills of Gothic literature with the psychological realism of the domestic novel’. (p. xiii) The scary things from the Gothic novels was suddenly present in the well-known middle-class Victorian England. Home isn’t exactly a happy place – which is very true for the characters in this novel. Home is a place where you get poisoned, drugged and insulted. It’s not a safe place.

This edition of The Woman in White has three appendixes. Two of which I didn’t find very interesting – the first was theatrical adaptions of the novel, the third was how the novel was serialized in Dickens’ paper All the Year Round. But the second appendix had an interview with Collins where he talked about the novel, how he works by first finding a central idea, then the characters. Then the incidents comes from the nature of the characters and finally, he just starts at the beginning. In this case, he was inspired by a letter he received about a real or supposed wrongful incarceration at a lunatic asylum as well as he heard about an old French trial about substitution of persons. From there, the rest came.

This appendix kind of gives a peak into an author at work which is rather rare with an author writing in the 1800s. So I found these few pages extremely fascinating.

To end this rather lengthy review, I just want to mention my Dickens-Drood thing (obsession, some might say). Now this novel doesn’t shine any additional light on the question about who killed Edwin Drood (The Mystery of Edwin Drood) but what it does do, is give additional information in the appendix about Wilkie Collins and the hints in Drood to The Woman in White gives the Simmons novel a level more. I really like how it gives so much extra when you read several books by the same author and about the same theme. I’ve really gotten a lot out of focusing on Dickens and his Drood mystery.

  • Title: The Woman in White
  • Author: Wilkie Collins
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • Year: 1999 (original 1860)
  • Pages: 672 pages
  • Stars: 5 stars out of 5

Related posts – the Dickens-Drood angle:

Related posts – the epistolary novel angle:

Dan Simmons: Drood (review)

ImageLet me start of by saying that I absolutely loved this book so if there’s an inappropriate amount of gushing in the following, you have been warned.

I’ve had this on my shelves for a couple of years, just waiting for me to get ready to read The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens. I said in my review of that book that I didn’t recommend it except for die hard Dickens fans and the like – but I was wrong. Everyone should read The Mystery of Edwin Drood just to read this one afterwards since this book makes more sense if you have read Dickens’ novel. If you have read Dickens’, you will get the hints in Drood – in fact, Drood then reads as a introduction to how an author gathers inspiration. Simmons have taken parts from The Mystery of Edwin Drood and then used them in this book in the most clever way. One small example is how in the Dickens novel, there’s a girl nicknamed Pussy and a lawyer who thinks Pussy is a cat. Of course, Simmons then has a cat named Pussy. Dickens has one of the main characters be a opium addict – in Drood (at least) one of Dickens’ best friends is a opium addict and suffers terrible consequences because of it. John Jasper’s secret visit to the crypt is here, we have Deputy and so much more. I love this aspect of it – how you can imagine Dickens living his life and seeing inspiration all around him.

But I digress. I haven’t even started talking about what’s the book about yet. This is the story of the last few years of Charles Dickens’ life and what he did after being in a terrible railway accident in 1865 and till his death in 1870. The story is told by his friend, the author Wilkie Collins. Wilkie experienced firsthand much of what Dickens did and experienced in those last years – and Dickens was busy. Not only with his work but also with various investigations and experiences in the less familiar parts of London, the part where the opium addicts frequent, the parts where the lowest classes fight and struggle for survival each and every day.

Dickens was not an opium-user – but at the railway accident, he met a man, a certain personage named Drood. This Drood hunted the rest of Dickens’ life and as a expert mesmerizer, Drood made Dickens do what he bid. Dickens was extremely fascinated by Drood in the beginning but realized later that Drood was a murderer, a man so versed in the ancient Egyptian beliefs that he was able to resurrect himself and was more an apparition than a man.

Because of Dickens’ connection to Drood, Wilkie is slowly dragged into this as well and experiences first hand a nasty Egyptian ritual involving a scarab. Wilkie becomes a sort of spy into Dickens’ life to inform a private detective, working desperately to catch the sinister Drood.

This is what the book is about. This is the extremely exciting story Wilkie Collins relate to us. Only thing is – Wilkie is not only an opium-user, he also self-medicate with laudanum in extremely high doses, several glasses at a time. So the question becomes – is Wilkie a reliable narrator so we can trust what he tells us about Dickens’ last years or is this rather one man’s descend into opium-induced madness? I’m still not sure.

Or maybe, it’s all something that Dickens invented – a kind of joke that got too far and was primarily fueled by Wilkie’s abuse issues and Dickens’ abilities as a master mesmerizer.

This is also a book about jealousy. There’s no doubt that both in their time and in our time, Dickens is the greater novelist. I haven’t read anything by Wilkie Collins yet so I don’t know if it’s fair but both back then and now, Dickens is the best one in the eyes of the public. And we love to read his books. We love to read about his characters. They are almost real. And Wilkie was – at least according to Simmons – very jealous because of this. And – for most of the book – doesn’t think it’s fair. (I do think that this book also would benefit for having read a couple of Wilkie Collins novels…)

There’s no doubt that Simmons is a master writer. The way he handles all these various possible ways to read the book, all the research he has in this without at any point making it boring or like someone is telling us something because we need to know to understand what’s coming. It’s marvelous. And I have a sneaking suspicion that if you look at how Dickens or Collins tell their stories and then compare it to Simmons, you will find similarities that are not just coincidences.

I love this quote about how Dickens’ write: ‘pulling characters out of the air (often based willy-billy on people in his own life) without a thought as to how they might serve the central purpose, mixing in a plethora of random ideas, having his characters wander off into incidental occurrences and unimportant side-plots having nothing to do with the overriding idea, and often beginning his story in mid-flight /…/’. (p. 264)

My favorite quote though, is one that I’m not sure whether to attribute to Dickens or to Simmons. The aging Dickens, after having lost so many of his family and friends, says at one point: ‘/…/ my heart has become a cemetery.’ (p. 578). I find this such a powerful sentence because it’s true. At some point for most of us, our hearts will become cemeteries because the ones we have loved, are dead. And what a tragedy when you reach that moment. And what a beautiful way to express it.

Now, I of course have to mention the way Simmons see the end of The Mystery of Edwin Drood – told from Dickens’ own lips, although not necessarily something you can trust (like so much else in this novel). But according to this, Edwin Drood is dead, murdered by John Jasper – who turns out to be his brother, and who are suffering so much from opium abuse that he has an alternate consciousness, Jasper Drood. And Jasper Drood is a master mesmerizer. As is Helena Landless and to some extent her brother Neville. But someone has mesmerized John Jasper/Jasper Drood to kill his brother – and who this person is, is never revealed by Simmons. So the mystery is intact…

In it’s way, this is a tribute to Charles Dickens. I haven’t done much research into who Dickens actually was as a person, but it seems that Simmons has and that he has worked hard on this novel to create a fair picture of Dickens. Even though Wilkie is the one telling it, and Wilkie hates Dickens for parts of the book, there’s no doubt who comes of as the most sympathetic. Despite the way Dickens treated his wife, despite his ‘secret’ mistress. But then again, we only have Wilkie’s – not necessarily very reliable – words for this, don’t we?

  • Title: Drood
  • Author: Dan Simmons
  • Publisher: Little,  Brown and Company
  • Year: 2009
  • Pages: 775 pages
  • Stars:  5 stars out of 5

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