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Book: The Moonstone

February 9, 2011

(I wish my copy had been this awesome green edition)

How can you “review” a book that’s been around for over 100 years? All I can do is give you my impressions of it. I think plenty has been said about this, the first real English detective novel.

In a nutshell: Good Victorian page-turning fun!

Some background and a confession: Before starting to listen to Drood, I really didn’t know who Wilkie Collins was. It seems like there was a brief flurry of Collins-love going around the blogosphere last year, so I knew about Woman In White and The Moonstone, but I had no idea really why I would want to read either. I was in a bit of a reading slump last year and Victorian sensationalist novels didn’t seem like the ticket to pull me out of it. So I kind of filed it away under “Someday, When I Have Brain Power Again.”

Then I started listening to Drood, which is narrated by Wilkie Collins. I already liked Dickens of course (the other main figure in Drood), so I figured I would keep an open mind and ‘get to know’ Collins as the book went along. I’ll save most of my impressions for my review of Drood (I am so far behind in my book reviews!), however, suffice to say that I quickly fell under Wilkie’s charms as did so many of the young ‘periwinkle’ actresses and society ladies of the time. Smart, caustic, charming, eloquent (at least in Dan Simmons’ version of him), I started to get intrigued about Collins’ books.

Then I read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, which I didn’t love, but which further increased my fascination with this particular time period, and what I was learning from Drood about the state of London detecting at this point in time. Everything sort of started to pile on top of each other — each book fed into the other, and pretty soon I was very interested in how Collins took all of this to create his Sergeant Cuff, who was certainly a template for my favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes.

Then, in Drood, Collins begins work on The Moonstone, and as he and Dickens (fictionally) hash out the details of the mystery, what could I do? I had to read the actual book.

So I did. And to my surprise, it was a very fun read. I like Dickens but sometimes his novels are a bit, well, much. The Moonstone, in contrast to the usual Dickens novel, moved along fairly quickly. Many plot twists and turns, with clues being revealed slowly, and no one knowing the entire story all at once (just as the reader experiences it as well). Written from several points of view, we also get the fun and benefit of experiencing several different personalities as we try to gather up the various threads of the mystery.

My favorite character was Miss Clack. We all know someone like this. Overly pious, with a vicious passive-aggressive judgmental streak, Miss Clack chafed under her sense of her own self-importance and missionary zeal. While trying to “save” everyone (which included rejoicing over her aunt’s fatal diagnosis because now she could “save” her aunt), she succeeds only in making further enemies. Her section was extremely funny and I was sorry when her chapters were over.

Since I had already gotten through the part of Drood where Collins is developing all the plot twists and turns of The Moonstone, I was very familiar with the story already, but thankfully I did not know the final villain, so I got to enjoy that final surprise.

If this were a modern-day detective novel, I would have several critiques of the structure, Sergeant Cuff’s methods and failures, and the ultimate resolution of the thing. However, since it is the first English-language detective novel, I will refrain and just say that it was really a good fun read, with a lot of subtle and enjoyable social commentary, and a great picture into a certain part of Victorian society. One gets an Upstairs/Downstairs faceted picture of the crime and resolution, which is interesting and informative.

Full of by-now stock devices: false leads, suicides of suspects, overly confident policemen, mistaken identities (of a sort), and a charming romance subthread, The Moonstone doesn’t really break any new ground for a modern reader, but it’s fun to imagine the readers of the time waiting for the next serial installment of this page-turner.

I really enjoyed this and will read The Woman In White at some point, as I am now a confirmed Wilkie fan. I have to say also that it was a great experience to read Drood, The Moonstone, and The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher all at the same time, since they all reference one another.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2011 9:46 am

    Welcome to the fan club 😀 No Name is also very awesome. It’s amazing how quickly his novels do move along, considering how huge and Victorian in their prose they are.

    • February 9, 2011 11:15 am

      Another to add to the pile! Yeah, I’m definitely a Wilkie fan now. Have you read Drood yet? I don’t think so… you will LOVE IT.

  2. February 9, 2011 11:19 am

    Moonstone is one of my favorite classics. I read Drood last year and could not it it down. Congratulations on getting through all those pages.

    • February 9, 2011 11:54 am

      Well, I *listened* to it, but still. It was probably a good two+ months of listening, oy. I do wish I’d actually read Drood because there were times when I didn’t want the story to stop but I had to ‘unplug’!

  3. February 9, 2011 9:27 pm

    i have never heard of any of this. im intrigued. plus, i think i like the name Wilkie. and yep, i know a miss clack.

    • February 10, 2011 9:04 am

      Everyone knows a Miss Clack! It was a fun book. Not difficult at all.

  4. February 10, 2011 4:18 am

    oh wow.. you are the first person who sounds like what happened to me last year! I read and LOVED the book Drood, I haven’t read moonstone yet (it’s in the tbr pile) but did read the woman in white (collins)and the old curiosty shop (Dickens) along with, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher and one other called The Last Dickens which, like you, all tied in. I have more Dickens and Collins’s books in my tbr pile and I owe it all to DROOD! And to top that I am now reading a Biography of Dickens which is quite good reading also! (unfortunately there is no *book* biography on Wilke that I can find

  5. February 10, 2011 7:02 am

    Yay! A new Collins fan! I read Woman in White back when it seemed there was lots of Collins love going around and, well, I loved it! That one has one of the best villains ever. I’ve got Drood and The Moonstone on my shelves. I will try to remember to read The Moonstone first.

    • February 10, 2011 9:06 am

      I didn’t really have a problem reading The Moonstone having already read Drood, because the final key in the puzzle isn’t revealed in Drood, but both are very worth reading! I am definitely going to read Woman In White sometime, now.

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