Tuesday, December 29, 2009

drood - dan simmons - gelesen dezember 2009

In 'Drood,' Dan Simmons makes some difficult choices. He tells the oft-told story of Dickens' life from the perspective of Wilkie Collins, in Simmons' novel (and in actuality), that of a pain-addled opium addict. There's an excess of actuality to deal with; Dickens life was incredibly complex, not surprisingly, Dickensian. To that add the imaginative riffs of Collins' hallucinations, the constant pain from his gout, the even greater pains of jealousy and Collins' certainty that he was good enough a writer to know he could never measure up to Dickens stature.

This is where 'Drood' begins, with an opening right out of the most ripping of yarns, a dramatic grabber that makes the reader question not Collins' sanity, but Dickens, followed by a spectacular set-piece right out of the Dickens bios. On June 9, 1865, Charles Dickens was on a train with the woman who may have been his paramour and her mother, when it ran off the rails and plunged into an abyss. Dickens was left hanging over the edge, and readers will be as well in this cleverly plotted and cunningly composed novel. Sure, at 784 pages, there are really two or three "normal" books stuffed into this cabinet of wonders. But each of them is a one hell of a gripping tale, and Simmons' architectural skill manages to get all the rooms under one tin-plated, roof replete with chimneys belching smoke into the skies and underground labyrinths that lead straight to hell.

Readers will know pretty much right off the bat if they're going to enjoy the novel because the tale is told in the consistently unreliable voice of Wilkie Collins. He's a hoot to be around, even if he's constantly in pain, and a good enough writer to make you feel his pain and that of everyone him. The conceit is that this manuscript has been withheld at Collins' request for 125 years. Now the true lies behind the last unfinished novel by Dickens, 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood,' can be told. It seems that Dickens met Drood in the pit beneath the Staplehurst disaster, as he tried to help victim. Drood, described as looking something like the figure of Edward Munch's The Scream brought to life may or may not still be human or actually alive, but he is according to Dickens' and Collins' real-life police contact, Charles Frederick Field, the nastiest serial murderer London has never heard of. And now he is in the lives of both Dickens and Collins; and that;'s just the Spook story aspect of 'Drood.' Threaded through 'Drood' as well are a superbly entertaining Dickens biography and a portrait of literary competition and innovation at the dawn of genre fiction as we know it today.

Simmons' nails Collins' voice in the opening sentence and keeps the high-wire act up for another 783 pages. It's his funniest book to date, with a generous sense of humor that keeps the tone light even when the going gets pretty heavy — and in a book this size, you can bet there are more than a few dire moments. Simmons has set himself a very difficult task and it wasn't until the moment I began to write this review that I realized just how successful he is. On one hand, he's got to set a seriously Victorian tone to his prose. But he's an American writer, and he has to be careful not to seem too contrived or arcane. By choosing Collins — a thoroughly modern man even by our 21st-century standards — as his tale-teller, he gets to steep his readers in the atmosphere while keeping the language accessible. There are lots of parts of this book that readers will want to read aloud, and not just the fairly significant number of quotes, letters and speeches straight out of history.

The characters, and as you might expect, there are lots of them, are nonetheless easy enough to keep track of. Moreover, they're all a joy to be around, especially with Wilkie as your guide. Charles Frederick Field, the real-life inspiration for Dickens' Inspector Bucket from 'Bleak House' and Collins' Sergeant Cuff, from 'The Moonstone' is a gruff but complicated figure. Women didn't fare very well in those times and they don’t do so hot in this novel either, but they live, breathe and often scheme with some success. Collins points out that the name "Drood" sound a lot liker the word "dread" and Simmons, a skilled horror writer, ensures he lives up to his implications.

Given that 'Drood' will function as many readers' first Dickens biography, Simmons is to be congratulated on his integration of history and fantasy. There's certainly a good deal of history to be found here. It's entertainingly written and cunningly researched. Readers who pick up 'Drood' should do so with the knowledge that they're getting more than just a single story, more than just a single, straightforward novel. One probably shouldn’t make too much of the fact that Dickens' life was positively Dickensian; but it's not to be ignored either. If you're the sort of reader who enjoys a good digression, this is your banquet, because in 'Drood,' the digressions are served up with a good deal more than a soupcon of surreal imagery mixed with out-and-out obvious lies and hallucinations. The plot takes a crooked path, but also lots of drugs, and that makes the getting there a lot of fun.

As 'Drood' lurches forth across a tortured landscape, Simmons doesn't just bury the knife, he twists it early and often. Fiction is, after all, lies and pain and illusion. The cost is great. In these times, it will require quite a bit of time to read 'Drood,' even if the pages turn very fast, and they do indeed. But how to value new dreams and old nightmares? How to count the cost of creation, how do we assess literary innovation then and now? Read the book; then go back and visit the landscapes that unfold in your mind. The lives you have lived are real. Pages, ages and price; what are they compared to memory?

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