The story continues on its twisted little way through the 1860’s now, and we get to see (as much seeing as a book can provide, which in this case is plenty) how the events unfold. The search for the elusive Drood continues and if not for the frequent mentions of the opium that seems to be a constant companion to Wilkie, it would be hard not to believe every word of the story. The opium provides a good excuse for disbelieving the narrator’s account of those years. Wilkie’s frustration at not being able to describe the way he feels about the use of the drug is very apparent:
“Each week I could see in King Lazaree’s dark-eyed look his absolute knowledge of both my growing divinity and growing frustration at not being able to share my new knowledge via the dead bulk of letters being set down and pushed around on a white page like so many ink-carapaced and quill-prodded beetles.”
Doubts begin to creep in. Does this Drood really exist or is he a made up man conjured by the shaken and traumatized mind of Dickens? He claimed to have first seen the man on the day he was involved in a train accident, an event from which he never fully recovered until his death five years later. He survived without sustaining any apparent physical damage, and so did his companions, a young actress and her mother, whose identities he was most careful to protect. The author sets that event as the starting point of the novel, and also as the event that will change the course of many lives. Drood becomes the enigma in the two friends’ lives, but seems to take over Wilkie’s with a force he can’t seem to resist. It’s no secret that Wilkie and Dickens have a sometimes strained friendship, due to both authors’ inflated egos which leads to many discussions and not all of them pleasant.
Should we forgive Wilkie’s harsh words or should we agree with him? Somehow I felt like I had to take sides and maybe I did from time to time. I felt won over by Dickens’ passion as a performer on his reading tours, by his thirst for life, by the depth of his feelings and sometimes even by his cruelty.
We get to see Drood – the author provides a full description of the man’s lair and of the man himself, his unusual appearance, his speech with the hisssing sssounds of a slithering snake, his rituals and old gods he presumably serves.
The end left me a bit confused, as I was looking forward to find out who this Drood really was. If Dickens’ confession of mesmerism (a subject I found particularly fascinating) was true, if Wilkie’s imagination – fuelled by countless glasses of laudanum and opium dreams – was too much for his own good, who’s to say… The fact that Simmons makes it so that the reader is offered an excuse for this incredible tale makes it all the more believable.
*Read in May 2011