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The Mystery of Edwin Drood

First, the confession. I have never read a complete Charles Dickens novel (and yes, I know, Dickens died before completing Edwin Drood.) I’ve read lots of bits of novels for class, and A Christmas Carol, but never the full several hundred pages.

This is my loss. It’s laugh out loud satire (Mr Honeythunder the philanthropist’s Have I sat upon you?), tender (Crisparkle’s pretence at short sightedness so his mother can have the pleasure of reading correspondence at the breakfast table) and hugely atmospheric. Check out the opium induced opening:

Maybe it is set up by the Sultan’s orders for the impaling of a horde of Turkish robbers, one by one.  It is so, for cymbals clash, and the Sultan goes by to his palace in long procession.  Ten thousand scimitars flash in the sunlight, and thrice ten thousand dancing-girls strew flowers.  Then, follow white elephants caparisoned in countless gorgeous colours, and infinite in number and attendants.  Still the Cathedral Tower rises in the background, where it cannot be, and still no writhing figure is on the grim spike.  Stay!  Is the spike so low a thing as the rusty spike on the top of a post of an old bedstead that has tumbled all awry?

Chose Edwin Drood because I liked the BBC’s Christmas adaptation and I suspect there’s less sentimentality here than in the other stuff. I may be wrong. Have Bleak House primed too.

(Finished 12 February) The final sections felt unfinished and slightly rushed. There were some beautiful passages, though, such as Mr Tartar’s trip down the Thames with Grewgious and Rosa, and the description of his garden that grew on the side of his house.

All the traditional elements of a novel (plot, location and character – especially character) are done perfectly, and there’s also some tricksy use of the present tense. The only oddity is that Dickens seems to side with certain characters, almost as if he’s reading the story as well as writing it. This becomes cloying sometimes.

Of course, it’s fantastic writing.