Drood by Dan Simmons

August 17, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Drood by Dan Simmons is a work of historical fiction that gives readers a look at what might have happened during the last few years of Charles Dickens’s life. Told from the point of view of fellow novelist and friend Wilkie Collins, the narrative opens in June of 1865, when Dickens was involved in a terrible train accident at Staplehurst, in which 10 people died and 40 were injured. The accident had long-lasting psychological effects on Dickens, as recorded in various writings from the period, and this is what Simmons chooses as a jumping-off point for the rest of the story.

Basically, Wilkie Collins contends that it was in the immediate aftermath of the Staplehurst crash that Dickens met a mysterious figure known only by the surname Drood. Both Dickens and Drood went from passenger to passenger after the crash; but while Dickens tried helping everyone he encountered, Drood seemed to be sucking the very souls out of everyone he touched — or so says Dickens in relating the tale to Collins.

From there, the plot becomes extremely twisted and convoluted, as Dickens seems to grow increasingly obsessed with Dickens. By extension, Collins does as well. Collins comes to believe that Drood is some sort of mass murderer who has a dangerous hold of Dickens through the power of magnetism, and who is trying to use the “Inimitable” for some nefarious end.

It would be impossible for me to try to recount even just the major events that occur in this novel, which spans more than 800 pages. The best I can do is to say that Collins, an morphine and laudanum addict, is as unreliable a narrator as they come, so you can’t really trust anything he says!


  • There were lots of references to Dickens’s novels in this book, which I greatly appreciated. I especially liked learning how the various characters, settings, and events in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens’s unfinished work, might have come into being.
  • Most of the scenes that featured Dickens were enjoyable to read. It was interesting to see the interactions between him and Wilkie Collins, especially when Collins’ jealousy of Dickens’s greater success bubbled to the surface.
  • I enjoyed hearing about Dickens’s reading tours. I bet it would have been amazing to see one of these performances way back when!


  • Why did the novel have to be so darn long? There were tons of boring parts that I could barely push my way through. Did we really have to know every detail of Collins’s household affairs with his two mistresses? Boring! Was it absolutely necessary to talk about the different plays that Collins wrote and the way the performances were received in London? Yawn. Those scenes, of which there were many, added nothing to the work as a whole and should have been cut.
  • So Drood was nothing more than a hallucination, the result of an elaborate — and very unnecessary — scheme by Dickens to see if he could “mesmerize” someone for a long period of time? Collins was thus under the influence for four or five years??? Ugh, gimme a break. That’s as bad as the “it was all a dream” cop out on TV shows and movies. What a friggin’ waste of time!


I decided to read Drood by Dan Simmons because I was very interested in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and thought The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl was somewhat fun. I’d read some reviews saying Simmons’s effort at reconstructing the final years of Dickens’s life was far superior to Pearl’s, but I did not find that to be the case at all. This novel was too long, there were too many nonessential scenes, and worst of all, the plot went absolutely nowhere. I give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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