Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Book Review & Giveaway: The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl

The Last Dickens
Author: Matthew Pearl
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (Oct. 6, 2009)
Trade Paperback, 416 pages, $15.00
ISBN-10: 0812978021
ISBN-13: 978-0812978025

Despite literary talent such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Boston-based publisher Fields & Osgood is facing economic catastrophe. The publishing house’s survival may depend on their shining star, celebrated British novelist Charles Dickens. As Dickens’s only authorized American publisher, Fields & Osgood hope that The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens’s first novel in five years, will bolster sales enough to avoid financial ruin.

The unexpected death of Charles Dickens in June of 1870 leaves The Mystery of Edwin Drood unfinished. James Osgood entrusts Daniel Sand, a young but industrious clerk, with the task of retrieving Dickens’s final, incomplete manuscript as soon as it arrives in Boston. But when Daniel is found dead -- without the manuscript in his possession -- is his death simply a tragic accident or something more sinister?

With the fate of the publishing house very much in doubt, James Osgood and Rebecca Sand, Daniel’s sister and a bookkeeper at Fields & Osgood travel to England to see if Dickens left any clues as to how his final book would end. Osgood and Rebecca soon find that they are not the only ones looking for Dickens’s last work, and there is much more on the line than just a manuscript. Events that were set in motion two years earlier during Charles Dickens’s American reading tour will provide surprising answers and provoke new questions. Their journey will take them from the Dickens family home, Gadshill Place, to the opium dens of London and finally back to Boston in a deadly game of literary cat-and-mouse.

I greatly enjoyed the characters of James Osgood and Rebecca Sand but my favorite parts of the novel were the flashbacks to Charles Dickens’s American tour. Dickens is described as “a man with exclamation points for eyes” and that bubbly vitality was present in Pearl’s characterization of Dickens. There’s something universal about Charles Dickens. The endurance of his works are perfect evidence of this. I thought Matthew Pearl expressed the reasons for Dickens’s continual appeal exceptionally well in this passage:

“Dickens alone, among all the writers of popular fiction of the day, could employ wit and discernment, excitement and sympathy, in equal parts in each one of his books. The characters were no mere paper dolls, nor were they thinly veiled extensions of Charles Dickens’s own persona. No, the characters were utterly themselves. In a Dickens story, readers were not asked to aspire to a higher class or to hate other classes than their own but to find the humanity and the humane in all. That is what had made him the world’s most famous author.” -- p. 33

During most of the book, the story alternates between two main storylines: that of Osgood and Rebecca and that of Dickens’s American tour. There is also a third subplot involving Frank Dickens, the son of Charles Dickens, in India. The two main storylines come together well by the end of the novel, but I felt that Frank Dickens’s storyline needed a clearer resolution. And, while I liked Rebecca as a character, I wondered more than once if she came across as a bit too modern for the time period. If I had to sum up The Last Dickens in one word, it would be subtle. It’s a book that rewards the patient and observant reader as the story progresses. Major revelations are presented without fanfare, and somehow seem more powerful for it.

Some readers may wonder how The Last Dickens compares to Drood by Dan Simmons. If not for the common theme of Charles Dickens and his last work, I think it would be almost unfair to compare the two. They are two very different stories. I enjoyed both of them, each for their own reasons, and I can’t say that I preferred one over the other. My favorite aspect of Drood was how Victorian London came fully to life, almost as though it were a character in itself. I didn’t have the same sense of time and place with The Last Dickens, even though Boston and London were both well-portrayed. The Last Dickens shows Charles Dickens in a kinder and more objective light than the reader receives from Drood’s narrator, Wilkie Collins. I suspect that The Last Dickens will have more mass appeal due to its less intimidating length and more likable characters. Both are worth reading for anyone who enjoys literary fiction. Both are must-reads for anyone with an interest in Charles Dickens.

This was my first experience with Matthew Pearl's writing, but it most certainly will not be the last.

The Last Dickens was released in trade paperback yesterday. Visit Matthew Pearl's website for more information.

Book Giveaway:

Thanks to TLC Tours and the publisher, I have a copy of The Last Dickens to give away to a lucky reader. U.S. or Canadian residents only, please. I'll announce the winner a week from today. Please include a valid e-mail address so I have a way to contact you if you win!

Edit: This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to the winner, BermudaOnion!

38 comments:

  1. I have never read anything about Charles Dickens. This is a first for me, and I never knew there was another book also! Wow! This one sounds good, I must some day get it too.

    Don't enter me, I am not eligible!

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  2. OH - I love the quote you posted!

    I have Drood (as well as Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood) sitting on bookshelf just waiting for me to find the time to savor them. I would love to be entered in this drawing and add this book to make it a trilogy :)

    Mstermind1 at gmail dot com

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  3. This book sounds fascinating, thanks for the review! Please enter me in the drawing:

    ruthellenanderson (at) gmail (dot) com

    Thanks! (Keeping my fingers crossed!)

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  4. I really want to read this book; I'd love to win it!

    WordLily AT gmail DOT com

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  5. I've heard such good things about Matthew Pearl and I'd love to read this novel.

    bookingmama(at)comcast(dot)net

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  6. This sounds like an awesome book. It definitely sounds like a book that is full of subtle surprises. Please enter me!

    joannelong74 AT gmail DOT com

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  7. Sounds good. Please enter me. I linked my email to my name.

    thebluestockingguide at me dot com

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  8. I love Dickens and this looks so great. Thanks for the giveaway.

    s.mickelson at gmail dot com

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  9. I love Charles Dickens and would love to read this book. I hadn't heard of it before, I'm definitely adding it to my TBR list. It sounds like a book my bookclub would enjoy.

    I would love to be entered into this giveaway. My email is laarlt78(at)hotmail(dot)com.

    Thanks!

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  10. I really enjoyed Drood, so I'd like to read this one. Please enter me. milou2ster(at)gmail.com

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  11. I read Peral's Danted Club and loved it. Please enter me in the giveaay.

    Thanks.

    carolsnotebook at yahoo dot com

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  12. This book looks soooo amazing. I would love to be entered in your draw. Thanks. wandanamgreb(at)gmail(dot)com

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  13. Please count me in.

    simplystacieblog at gmail dot com

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  14. Sounds great! Thanks for the chance to win.

    saz AT chainreader DOT com

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  15. No need to enter me, but great review! I enjoyed this one as well.

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  16. Hello, would love to win a copy! My son and I just finished Pearl's book on Poe"s death "The Poe Shadow"( coincidentally the anniversary of Poe's death is today!!)We so enjoyed the book and can't wait to read this book too We are all huge Dickens fans as well.Thanks for a chance to win a copy of "The last Dickens"
    Jenny
    ladybugfarm at gmail dot com

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  17. I have the Mystery of Edwin Drood, concluded by Leon Garfield, since its publication in 1980. I've never read it...but it's on the top of my TBR pile now.
    tatamagouche AT netbundle DOT ca

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  18. Hello, I love the cover of this book! I have read good reviews about it. Please enter my name in your delightful book giveaway drawing.
    Many thanks.....Cindi
    jchoppes[at]hotmail[dot]com

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  19. Oh, why not--I worked my way through Drood, so I might as well try this one, too! ;) This one does sound like a very different novel; I'm curious as to how Dickens appears here.

    kitty fischer [at] gmail [dot] com

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  20. No need to enter me because I'm reading it now. So far, I'm enjoying it!

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  21. Please enter me, sounds very interesting.
    baileysandbooks (at) gmail (dot) com.

    Thanks!

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  22. I would love to be entered, thanks!

    delilah0180(at)yahoo(dot)com

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  23. I'd love to read a book about Dickens. Thank you for the giveaway!
    Carol M
    mittens0831 at aol dot com

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  24. Oh I love this time period! Sounds like a great read. Enter me please Ruth.
    Luanne (dot) ollivier (at) gmail( dot) com

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  25. Enter me please..this one looks good!
    allisonsattic at gmail dot com

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  26. I really like Dickens and I would love to win this book!

    stephaniefleischer889 [at] gmail [dot] com

    ReplyDelete
  27. Please include me in your giveaway


    Canadian Contests, Freebies, Coupons, Deals, Games and Chat - join us at http://forum.coolcanucks.ca/


    bluebelle0367(at)hotmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  28. Thanks for the great review - please count me in!

    megalon22{at}yahoo{dot}com

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  29. I think I saw this on LibraryThing somewhere. Anyway, it looks great! I'm adding it to my wishlist if I don't win it here :)

    Kathleen aka kegsoccer@aol.com

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  30. I thought Drood was amazing. Would love a chance to win this one. tonigomez (at) surewest (dot) net. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  31. sounds like a great read.please count me in..thanks

    flower_child_23(at)hotmail(dot)com

    ReplyDelete
  32. Did you know????
    Charles Dickens had 7 sons and 3 daughters and he named all of his sons, except the first, after great English writers.
    Thanks for a fantastic giveaway, Dickens is my favorite author=)
    Luvdaylilies at bellsouth dot net

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  33. I would really love to win this book Thank you
    tanyainjville@yahoo.com

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  34. need some winter reading,,thx for contest,,
    thehighflyer3(at)hotmail(dot)com

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  35. I so want to win The Last Dickens.

    Please enter me. Thanks


    cherdon@sympatico.ca

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  36. I love Dickens and watched The Mystery of Edwin Drood with my mother last Christmas season. I would love to win!

    gaby317nyc at gmail dot com

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  37. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  38. My book came today! Thank you so much for hosting this giveaway.

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