Sunday, 13 January 2013
The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl
The story centres around Dickens unfinished novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and the search for clues as to how Dickens intended it to end. James Osgood, a partner in the firm that publishes Dickens work in America is particularly anxious to find it. His firm is in a parlous state and the scoop of discovering how Drood ends would secure its future.
He is not the only one searching however, other publishing firms are on the scent and some of them use very underhand methods. It also turns out that the significance of Drood isn't only literary - there are people who want it for their own nefarious reasons.
The action moves between India (where we see criminality associated with the opium trade), America and England in the months immediately following Dickens death. There are also flashbacks to Dickens second American tour. Osgood was one of his entourage and got to know the great man. These sections were my favourite part of the book. It appears that Dickens was treated like a rockstar on this tour; huge lines of people wanting to buy tickets, touts selling tickets for exorbitant prices, Dickens being mobbed and his coat ending up in rags because fans kept grabbing for it.
I did find the novel a bit convoluted, and I wasn't sure why so much of it was set in India. But I thought the parts about Dickens American tour were wonderful, and gave a real feel and flavour of the time.