A Review of The Last Dickens

The Last Dickens was a great improvement upon the Poe Shadow; it was more akin to Matthew Pearl's first novel, The Dante Club. Both of these books are extremely well researched and tied to both the text and the tonality of the era in which they are set.

In The Last Dickens I felt that there might have been too many back stories that were not entirely connected. The section that deals with Frank Dickens was only tangentially supported. It implied that being a son of the great Dickens was akin to being a son of the British Empire, privileged yet somehow living off the reputation of the past. The sins of the father fall on the sons as do the sins of the Empire fall on its representatives.

Neither Charles Dickens nor the British Empire are idealized but are implicated in the worst aspects of colonialism - especially 'benevolent' paternalism. The monopoly of the opium trade Britain and America held was a good example of how the political mirrored the personal addiction that shows up in Daniel, Eddie Trood, and others in the first chapter of Dickens' original book The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The same themes of exploitation reoccur in the back stories of the Harper and Osgood publishing firms. The publishing underbelly had much to do with bookaneers who pirated copyright, not unlike opium pirates.

Echoes of that original text make their way into Pearl's retelling but slightly changed. I had the impression that the triad between Osgood the American publisher, Wakefield the tea-merchant and Rosalind Sand may parallel Dickens' original triad of Edwin Drood, Jaspers and Rosa Budd. Pearl's use of echoing the original novel but not sticking too closely to it made for a much more dynamic retelling and interpretation. It is as if the original story had a future in Pearl's, as well as Dan Simmons', retelling.
Both Dan Simmons' Drood and The Last Dickens diabolically reinterpret Edwin Drood. I wonder if that view is suggested in Dickens' original text?

All in all, there seems to be an objectification of Charles Dickens, the creative act of writing, international relations, whether related to copyright or opium trading, and the poor. These are the themes that Dickens himself contended with as do we. Pearl's novel encourages us to look backward in order to move forward, an excellent use of historical fiction.

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