on 31 October 2010
I loved 'The Woman in White' by Wilkie Collins. The detective story, the intrigue, the mystery and suspense, all culminated in making a wonderful novel with a brilliant climax. So I was excited to read 'The Moonstone', which promised much of the same. Unfortunately 'The Moonstone' is NOT 'The Woman in White'. Instead what 'The Moonstone' is, is l-o-n-g and drawn out, with fairly forgettable characters and an ending that left me feeling flat.
The plot - a beautiful precious stone, shrouded in mystery and believed to be cursed, goes missing at the house of Lady Verinder shortly after it is given to her daughter Rachel as an 18th birthday present - sounds intriguing and certainly sets things up for what should have been a brilliant detective story. But that's where it falls flat. Instead, pages are given over to the minutiae of people's everyday lives, and character assinations that seem to go on forever. The supposedly great Sergeant Cuff (a fictional character, but one of great literary merit) gets pretty much everything wrong and ends up looking like nothing more than an amateur detective. Instead it is left to Franklin Blake, the protagonist of the story, to discover what really happened and in so doing, clear his name. But Blake is not interesting and doesn't draw you in; he is flat and two-dimensional and it's hard to care what happens to a character if you feel no sympathy or connection with them.
This was a chore to read (hence the reason why it took me well over a month to finish) and a disappointment after The Woman in White. I can only assume that Collins' regular use of opium (incidentally a key substance throughout the novel) to relieve his gout, had a great deal to do with why this novel appears disconnected and never seems to pick up the pace. My advice - stick to Collins' earlier works, which are much more engaging and readable.
T S Eliot called The Moonstone "the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels". It's hard not to agree. The Moonstone, an enormous diamond of religious significance, is vilely plundered by a British soldier during the taking of Seringapatam in 1799. The Moonstone is brought back to England and, eventually, given to the prim, beautiful and wilful heiress, Rachel Verinder, on her birthday in 1848. And it goes missing the very same night. Rachel's family and friends are keen to recover the lost stone and to identify the thief and thus call upon the services of Sergeant Cuff, the most celebrated and successful detective that Scotland Yard can offer. Yet Rachel is strangely reluctant to assist in the investigation, and the professional sleuth is not the only one searching for the stone and for answers. Three juggling Indians accompanied by a clairvoyant young boy, a ruthless London money lender and an amiable philanthropist all seem to have their own interests in recovering the stone, while others including Rachel and a reformed thief turned servant girl, seem at least as anxious to conceal certain facts surrounding its disappearance. The stage is thus set for a gripping detective story full of twists and turns and unexpected developments, all centred on the Verinder's country house in Yorkshire.
Written in a semi- epistolary style, with several of the major characters telling the parts of the story with which they were most concerned from their own perspective, Collins' novel has strong gothic overtones and much in common with the `big-house' novels written earlier in the century and serves as a bridge with the swelter of English detective fiction which was to follow. It is long, but you hardly notice as Collins whisks his mystery from India to Yorkshire, to London, to Brighton and back to Yorkshire. Elegant prose reminiscent of yet lighter than Dickens encapsulates an enchanting mystery with magical, even fantastical overtones, and presents a series of warm, engaging, if somewhat stereotypical characters: who can forgot the admirable Gabriel Betteredge, with his mystic faith in the powers of Robinson Crusoe to provide answers to daily difficulties, or the misunderstood Erza Jennings, with his face so much older than his body and his two-tone hair?
A sheer delight to read, like some much detective fiction, it does not demand to be taken seriously, yet for the careful reader, there are on offer deeper strains of tension over class, over Empire, and over religious differences and good and evil, which one might more readily associate with the post-war literature of a cosmopolitan diaspora.
on 28 June 2013
I ordered this as I had very much enjoyed 'The Woman in White' by the same author. At first I was n't sure but the narrative soon picked up till it got to the stage you did not want to put it down. Wilkie Colloins is a wonderful story teller
on 20 October 2012
I think this is generally recognized as English literature's first detective story. It certainly provides some useful patterns for others to follow, and like all great detective stories keeps the reader gripped and guessing from first till last.
Wilkie Collins was a contemporary and friend of Dickens, and there are similarities of style, though in general Collins is less given to authorial moralising or the use of the extended metaphor. Both employ the mini-climax technique to keep us turning the pages. Collins has other clever tricks up his sleeve. I particularly enjoy his multi-narrative structure, where the responsibility for telling different parts of the story is passed on from one character to another. Collins does a superb job with voice and characterisation of both male and female narrators - my favourites were the loyal servant Gabriel Betteredge with his passion for his pipe and 'Robinson Crusoe' (preferably together), and the prudish Miss Clack, a wonderful comic study in sanctimonious egotism. It is interesting also, for the modern reader who may have read Kate Summerscale's 'The Suspicions of Mr Whicher' to see the famous real-life Victorian detective portrayed in fictional form here as Sergeant Cuff.
Like most 19th Century novels 'The Moonstone' is quite long, but there is always something interesting going on and the denouement is more than satisfactory.
on 12 September 2015
I misjudged this book when I was at school!
It was a set book for "O" level, so I first read "The Moonstone" when I was fifteen. As a rebellious teenager, I had no time for the ramblings of Gabriel Betteredge or the multiple storyteller structure of the novel.
Now, after reading a lot of the classic British nineteenth century novels tthanks to Kindle, I can really appreciate the craft and originality of Wilkie Collins.
We were told in school that this was the first 'whodunnit', and I read it now, rembering the twist at the end. It makes no difference to thedrive of the story, but I can see the careful way that the clues to the truth of what happens are spread through the story and hidden by the preconceptions of the characters.
In summary, I think that "The Moonstone" is brilliant. I cannot recommend it more highly.
on 9 April 2002
As a detective novel enthusiast, I'm embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Wilkie Collins before The Moonstone was mentioned at my reading club. Having read the book since, I can't wait to read everything ever written by this brilliant author.
The Moonstone is a fascinating novel, ostensibly inspired by several famous stones taken/stolen from India, including the Koh-i-Noor. The story begins with the theft of this large Indian diamond, the Moonstone, by a British soldier and follows the stone as it finds its way into and then out of, a peaceful country house in Yorkshire, England.
Interestingly, the story of the diamond, its disappearance and its recovery is told entirely in the form of narratives by various characters in the story. This is done with a view to "producing witnesses, rather than presenting reports". Not only does this style of writing do wonders for building up the suspense, but also adds an interesting human quirk to this classic whodunit.
If you do read this particular edition of the book, do not skip the introduction by Catherine Peters. She reveals some fascinating facts about Wilkie Collins and his writing of The Moonstone. Critically ill halfway into the story (which was appearing as a serial in Charles Dickens' magazine at that time) but determined not to leave his public in suspense, Collins completed the novel with the help of a devoted secretary (his daughter) and a healthy dose of opium! In fact, this reference to opium finds its way into the book, as do some of the other interesting facts relating to Collins' life.
The language of the book is a bit dated and its size a bit daunting, but I urge you to plod on. As said by T. S. Eliot, The Moonstone is "the first, the longest, and the best of the modern English detective novels".
PS - In case you found my review a bit long-winded, hey, I'm just preparing you for the book!
set in a large country house.
The book is divided into sections in which some of the characters write down their own story and then it is picked up again by the next character and so forth.
The story is about a huge diamond which was taken from a sacred Indian shrine and then eventually given as a present to Rachel Verinder the daughter of Lady Verinder. The diamond is being pursued by persons unknown with the intention of stealing it so certain precautions are set in place so this shouldn't happen. However, it does happen and suspicion falls on the man Rachel loves!
The book does take some reading that's for sure as some of the language is old fashioned and it does waffle a bit in places. Otherwise it was a brilliant read and I was staggered when I discovered who the thief turned out to be.
I'd recommend this if you like long books and lots of red herrings and surprises along the way.
on 27 May 2015
This is, apparently, the father of all detective novels, and it is interesting to see how they have come from this. The use of diary or recollections by various characters is now not new and I find it irritating. Add to this Mr Collins' decidedly dodgy attitude to women and Catholics (in fact anyone who is nether white, male, protestant or Anglo-Saxon) and you can see why this work fails to meet it's potential. In its day I am sure that these points were widely unrecognised, but not true of these more enlightened times. Despite this, it is a work of remarkable depth and character, structured and finely drawn from observation and social interaction.
on 31 May 2011
I received the Kindle as a present from my husband and I wanted a free book to kick-start my introduction to reading with a Kindle without spending the normal cost of the current bestsellers (incase I didn't like the experience). Not only do I love the Kindle (and I thought I would never succumb) but I loved this classic detective story. Betteredge was beautifully described and I warmed to his character.
Whilst the narrative did meander at times, once I reminded myself of the period it was written in and how was providing the narrative, I was back to the story with renewed vigour. Maybe I'm a little slow but I never guessed the ending at any stage, which completely thrilled me.
It's wonderful that this book is free. I am looking forward to reading some of the other classics which are also free and hope that this will encourage others to dive in to the great pearls of our rich literary heritage.
Highly, highly recommended!
on 18 August 2015
I haven't finished this novel yet but already hooked. The style of presenting the mystery through the eyes of 'witnesses' each writing their own account is compelling and adds to the colour of the tale as each witness writes in their own style with their own idiosyncrasies. I wonder if Mavis Doriel Hay got the same idea of presenting a mystery through the eyes of witnesses in The Santa Klaus Murder from The Moonstone?