This book was alternately awesome and incredibly bloody frustrating. I will say this for him, Simmons has done his research and you can feel his love for the Victorian period in every page, and he definitely captures the dark side, the rotting side, the stinking side of a glittering era. No complaints there. But it’s so much. Real reviewers wrote about this in the papers, but I ignored it. But then I tackled this 800 page beast of a novel and, to be fair, it does have a sort of Dickensian inclusion about it: everything from biography, to Victorian burial practices, etc. When Wilkie Collins started doing a sarcastic literary analysis of Bleak House, though, is when I was just tempted to give up.
Short plot synopsis, which you likely already know: the book follows the last five years of the life of Charles Dickens, and his friend, rival, and fellow author Wilkie Collins (who, by the way, would probably be absolutely horrified and insulted by the way in which he is portrayed in this novel). Dickens is involved in a tragic train crash at Staplehurst one morning (a scene which, by the way, is sheer horror at its best), during which he meats the horrific, phantasmagoric creature Drood, who proceeds to haunt both Dickens and Collins, who imbibes increasingly large amounts of laudanum, opium, and then morphine. Who is Drood, and what are his nefarious purposes? Collins intends to find out with predictably tragic consequences. The tightly plotted novel has more twists and turns than you could hope for in this homage to both great Victorian authors.
I just didn’t really enjoy the whole thing, unfortunately. I wanted to. I really like Simmons’ writing. But it was just too long, too much, too un-Collins-like in the narrative voice… I don’t know. I definitely don’t regret putting in the time and effort to finish but I probably would not read it again, or buy it.