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The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

December 16, 2009

After a slow start with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, I sped right through the “end,” which is quite unfortunate because this book doesn’t even have a proper ending. It was left unfinished when Dickens died, although some of the author’s friends and papers give hints about the intended ending. The novel centers around a group of people in the town of Cloisterham. Two of the young characters, Rosa and Edwin, are engaged to be married, despite the fact that they aren’t in love. They are both orphans, and their parents were friends and wished for the two to eventually get married. Edwin spends a good deal of time with his Uncle Jasper, who also happens to be Rosa’s music teacher. Unfortunately, Uncle Jasper is in love with Rosa, much to her horror. Into this situation enter a brother and a sister, Neville and Helena. They are “charity cases” of one of the town’s reverends. Now what should happen but of course, Neville also falls in love with Rosa. Quite a messy love quadrangle. When one of the people in this crowd goes missing, a scandal ensues, with everyone pointing fingers at everyone else.

I am hardly in a position to judge the quality of this book. Since it ends so abruptly, it’s difficult to see if the mystery would have been interesting or if the characters would have been well developed. I was frustrated, however, because I did not like any of the characters. Rosa is so simpering and boring that she seemed like a parody of a hapless Victorian woman. It was hard for me not to roll my eyes at some of the things that were said about her, never mind for me to understand how multiple men were in love with her. The one character that I did like–Neville Landless–didn’t receive much page time, though I wish he had. My ambivalence towards the characters really surprised me, as my favorite thing about Dickens is usually that his characters are so endearing.

I read this book in anticipation of reading Drood by Dan Simmons. That book is actually narrated by a fictional Wilkie Collins, and concerns the events surrounding the last years of Dickens’ life. Surprisingly, right around the same time, Matthew Pearl’s book, The Last Dickens, was published. As far as I can tell, that book has a similar premise, but without the Wilkie. What an odd coincidence. The reviews for Drood were all over the map, so I’m excited to read it myself to see how I like it.

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