Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Last Dickens

I picked up The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl because I loved his The Dante Club even though it features one of the most disgusting, graphic scenes I've ever read. Picturing being eaten alive by maggots and flies is not appealing, and he covered it in minute details. And I read it alone in a hotel room, which wasn't super comforting. But I liked the book anyway and I love Dickens, so I jumped for this one. It's about The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the book left unfinished when Dickens died.
Many publishers desired the full book in order to make money. One of them, James Osgood, decides to track down any information he can about how Dickens intended to end the book so that his publishing house could have an exclusive angle that the pirated copies of the books wouldn't have. He ends up caught in not only that mystery, but tangled in the mystery of opium trade and the real life Edward Trood. The book was complete fascinating. I love historical fiction. Pearl teaches literature at Harvard and Emerson College, so he knows what he's doing with the facts. Then he weaves this wonderful story of what could have happened on top of it. I was surprised to learn so much about the publishing world of the 1870s and the opium trade, but enjoyed those elements as well. I also thought it was fitting that Pearl write about this specifically, because since Dickens did leave Drood unfinished, readers are left to guess the end of the tale themselves. Did Drood come back alive? Or was he dead? Pearl basically wrote his own ending by writing this book. It made me sad that we rarely anticipate books the way they did back then. Many books came out in serial format, including Drood. So five installments were already printed when Dickens died, and another installment after his death. People were desperate to know how it ended. When his The Old Curiousity Shop was published, readers were left on edge not knowing if little Nell lived or died and they eagerly anticipated ships from England bringing in the next installment. I'm glad that with things like Harry Potter and Twlight some of that excitement and anticipation lives on. I think that's one of the other reasons I like series so much. The anticipation of what happens next is half the fun. That's probably another reason why I like soaps too, although they don't seem to do cliffhangers quite like they used to. Anyway, I recommend The Last Dickens for anyone who likes mysteries, historical fiction, or Dickens.


  1. Thanks for your kind words Lindsey! I'm glad to have a thoughtful reader like you. I have also edited a new edition of "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" which will be out in October from Modern Library, and I hope you'll check out my other novel, The Poe Shadow, if you haven't yet. Best wishes! Matthew

  2. Following my enjoyment in reading The Dante Club I too was drawn to The Last Dickens. In fact I was truly excited to see it on sale in my local bookshop. Happily, it lived up to my expectations and, like The Dante Club, I was only disappointed that it came to an end. The joy of both books is that the author introduces so much authentic and interesting factual material to his story that the reader comes away with a sense of having a profound, intimate knowledge of the historical characters; a knowledge that would not have been possible without its being presented in this way. Incidentally, Nelly Ternan is buried in a cemetery about a mile from where I live in Southsea. Near her, in the same cemetery, is the grave of Mariah Beadnel, the unfortunate girl on whom Dickens exacted his revenge for having been rejected by her when they were both young. His revenge was to let it be known that she was the girl on whom he based the character of the hopeless Dora Spenlow. however, I digress. The Last Dickens, like its predecessor, The Dante Club, is a book that I will, I know, read many times. What is more,it is a book that I will recommend to all but never lend to anyone. This is based on my experiences with The Dante Club, of which I've had to buy three copies. It's one of those books that people hold on to rather than return it. Now, I will set out to buy a copy of The Poe Shadow and I sincerely hope that Matthew Pearl will come up with more such wonderful novels before long.

  3. Tony-
    I'm glad you enjoyed it. It's fun that you live so close to Nelly Ternan's grave. Although it sounds a little creepy when you say it like that. I look forward to more books from Pearl!