Thursday, June 05, 2008

Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood

I don't know if this ever happens to you, but I've been in a bit of a reading funk for the past few weeks. I want to read something, but nothing feels right ... I begin a dozen different books, hoping that something with sustain my attention, but nothing does ... Every so often I get into a funk like that, and it usually takes that one particular book (and a few weeks of false starts) to get me back on track. This time, Edwin Drood was just that book. Maybe it was the unsolved crime and detective aspect of the novel that grabbed me, appealing to my noir fiction guilty pleasure. Regardless, my Summer Reading 2008 kicks off with The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

This was the final novel Dickens wrote, left incomplete because he died mid-way through the composition. Although he left a few minor notes and a couple of fragments that offer clues to how he might have continued the narrative, Drood is the best example of fiction based on an unsolved crime simply because it is unsolveable: Which minor characters are ultimately important? Is the title character even really dead? Who has the best motive for committing the crime? Which details are really red herrings? We'll never know, and although legions of "Droodians" over the decades have tried to speculate on the answers, the solution (to paraphrase Hamlet) is silence.

What I like about this novel is Dickens's command of his material at this point. He was failing in health, he was exhausted from public readings, and he was experiencing difficulty with his creative process ... yet he was able to muster the energy and will to create a novel rich in imagery, well-sustained in tone, and linear in plot. What it lacks in typical Dickensian touches (rambling subplots, grotesque characters, biting social commentary, etc.) it more than makes up for as the first half of what might have been his crowning achievement as an author.

If you enjoy detective fiction, crime fiction, and mysteries, you'll enjoy the unfinished novel that is The Mystery of Edwin Drood!

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