Drood by Dan Simmons
I know I still owe a few posts to wrap up last year, but I wanted to get started on this year's CBR before I fall completely behind already (nothing like traveling and sitting at airports for days for reading time).
I think I'm done with Dan Simmons, which I realize is a very unfair thing to say since I've heard many positive things about The Terror, which I haven't read. However, the premise of Drood just sounded like it was much more up my alley than a novel about a doomed naval expedition: after all, it's literary - it's about Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins; it didn't actually matter to me that I don't particularly enjoy Dickens and have never read Collins.
And the thing is the novel starts out rather promising. However, there just isn't enough steam in the premise for over 700 pages, at least not the way Simmons wrote it. The novel is narrated by Wilkie Collins, author of The Woman in White, and friend and sometime collaborator of Charles Dickens. In the novel, Collins attempts to explain the last five years of Dickens's life following Dickens's involvement in a train accident. As Collins explains, shortly after the accident, Dickens told him all about it as well as his meeting with a mysterious figure named Drood.
Collins soon finds himself in the middle of an elaborate plot that he doesn't understand involving Drood, Charles Dickens and a former police investigator, Inspector Fields. However, much of the novel also just follows Wilkie's daily life. In the beginning it was amusing to see the interaction between the authors, the petty jealousies, the confusions about whose intellectual property certain collaborative pieces were etc. I even completely understood Wilkie's conflicting emotions regarding his friendship with Dickens - after all, I'm sure we have all bitched about friends one day, and then talked about how awesome they were the next. Unfortunately, the novel was marketed as a suspense novel and Simmons kept throwing in the suspense part of the story which quickly became rather tiresome since it would give just enough to get the reader interested, and then not mention that part of the story again for a hundred pages or so. I believe the issue here was pacing and the length of the novel - I don't mind reading well-written novels about nothing, but for a thriller, the pacing did not work. I found myself not caring about the mystery due to all the side tracking. I would have enjoyed a shorter, well-written thriller, or a long story about the relationship between two authors. However, it seemed like the novel couldn't quite pick what it was, and the ending was rather ludicrous.
Also, I'm not sure if Simmons simply needs a better editor, or if he was just doing a very good job of imitating Collins, since I've never read anything by Collins. Either way, he repeated himself a bit much. I understand this might be part of his whole "unreliable narrator" thing he had going with Collins, who after all was a bit of a drug addict. Unfortunately, the unreliable narrator part was stretched too much - by the end, it wasn't that I didn't know what parts of Collins's story to believe, but that I didn't believe anything he said because he had become too unreliable/didn't really care anymore - I believe he was telling the truth as he saw it, of course. Basically, I think Simmons had a great premise, but than dragged the novel on too much because no one was willing to make him edit the book, and in some ways, he was trying to be too clever with his representations (although based on his descriptions of Collins's books, this could very well be in line with the character).