on 8 December 2002
I was enthralled from the beginning of the book, the fascinating history and "curse" of the Moonstone, as I continue to read on, it was almost impossible to put down the book. An enthralling combination of what makes a "bestseller" nowadays, a cursed gem, the oriental touch, a murder, a love story. The writing was excellent, the characters are vivid, and the progress through a series of narrative by the various characters adds to the suspense of the crime. The plot is also good, it is not easy to guess who stole the Moonstone, even though the book was written about 140 years ago. It won't disappoint you.
A yellow diamond with a curse on it; a young girl trying to choose between two suitors; one of the first detectives in fiction and more twists and turns in the plot than you can shake a stick at not to speak of a huge cast of characters and multiple narrators and you have a fascinating story of theft and murder.
I was surprised how modern this book still is even though it was published over a hundred years ago. I was especially struck by the conversations between Rachel Verrinder and Franklin Blake – her on/off fiancé. I thought the author caught the different voices of his narrators very well indeed and I was never in any doubt who was narrating the story. This is well worth reading even today and it puts some modern crime novelists in the shade.
on 19 June 2001
I wish this book wasn't a "classic" because I was put off reading it for years thinking it would be stuffy. When I eventually overcame my preconceptions I discovered it's a madly entertaining romp that uses every Gothic cliche you could invent. A young beautiful heroine who's to inherit a fabulous Indian diamond bearing a curse, a party at a remote country house, the family's faithful old butler, the heroine's dashing cousin who no-one's seen for years, an ex-criminal servant girl with a sinister secret, quicksands, dodgy Indian jugglers (this is 150 years pre political correctness) with a clairvoyant servant-boy, a returning traveller who unmasks them as Brahmin priests determined to get the jewel back, an opium addict, murder and intrigue. So who did steal the diamond? It'll take you right till the end to find out in the most fantastic plot twist, and you'll be gripped all the way.
The Moonstone is one of the early (and probably one of the longer) crime novels, dating from the middle of the 19th century. The basic plot is simple enough and concerns the disappearance of a 'cursed' diamond from India during the new owner's birthday night, shortly after she was given it.
The book is written as a series of recollections of various people involved in or touched by the incident, all recalling the event months / years later.
The story is reasonably interesting and at least some of the aspects of the crime committed are hard enough to guess before the story starts drawing to a close. So in that sense the book is definitely a success and can be recommended - with one proviso. Namely it takes a certain time to get into its stride and while curiosity is aroused, Collins' writing does not exactly make this a page turner. If you start losing interest in the first section, it may be worthwhile to persevere, as the book definitely gets a bit better after the first 100 or so pages. It never turned into a gripping read in my opinion and it takes the author a long time to get anywhere with the story but it may well have been devoured far more hungrily by Collins' contemporaries - in that sense it is to be taken as a classic (which it is) and its peculiarities are probably best accepted.
So as long as you do not mistake this for an Agatha Christie, or even worse, a modern thriller type crime fiction, there is enjoyment to be had from the story, even if the work to get to the gems is a bit harder. And while probably not intended so by the author, certain aspects will also produce wry amusement for a more modern reader - definitely an added bonus.
It was T S Eliot who described Wilkie Collins' "The Moonstone" as "the first, the longest, and the best of Modern English detective novels". Not everybody might agree with this, but all practitioners, readers, and fans of detective fiction will find much to admire and enjoy in this magnificent 1868 publication.
Although not exactly the first example of detection novels, it provides the archetypal sleuth, Sergeant Cuff, an astute though idiosyncratic detective who leads the chase to the solution of the mystery, easily surpassing the dim-witted local police authorities. It also explores the full potential of the whodunit formula.
Arguably, it is still the longest example of detective fiction. Unlike most other serialized novels of its era, this one is meticulously plotted. You'll find red herrings, suspense, the unexpected, climaxes that overwhelm or fizzle out, and a satisfying denouement. It is narrated largely by some of the principal characters. All are revealed in well-rounded perspective while carrying forward the story line. The most popular has always been Drusilla Clack, "that rampant spinster", a self-righteous tract-dispensing lady who likes to eavesdrop and to be judgmental.
Is it the best? I would unhesitatingly award it the prize, while welcoming other internet browsers to name other contenders.
Wealthy internet browsers are recommended to download the unabridged audio reading of the book. It is a novel that reads well, and the full length reading available is a model of its kind. Naxos has produced an abridged version. It has the benefit of multiple readers, but most of the charm and all the atmosphere seems to disappear in the abridgment process. Book format will put you in touch with the original text and, provided you have the leisure and disposition for tackling a 20 hour read, will provide your imagination, your mind and your literary appetite with rich material.
on 30 March 2015
Recommended to me by a friend as essential reading after I'd enjoyed "The Suspicions of Mr Whicher" by Kate Summerscale, as one of the blueprints for the detective fiction genre. I found "The Moonstone" to be a real page-turner - a cast of very engaging characters, not all of whom are particularly likeable (step forward the wonderfully awful Miss Clack); a clever plot with cliffhangers a-plenty; and a satisfactory dénouement.
I particularly enjoyed the style of using several different narrators throughout the book to add different viewpoints of the same event, thereby gradually revealing the story and adding twists where previous narrators have omitted key information to suit their own ends. This technique can have the tendency to be clumsy and repetitive, but it was very effective in this novel.
There's also quite a refreshing portrayal of the female characters in this story for the period in which is was written (1860s) - whilst there are some stereotypical Victorian gender roles presented in the views of some of the male characters and the aforementioned Miss Clack, these are often presented in a satirical way so that the reader is invited to laugh at these strict views. The female protagonists on the other hand are mostly presented by the author as strong, assertive characters in their own right, their actions having a pivotal role in the story.
A thoroughly enjoyable read.
on 15 November 1999
A story about the theft of a diamond seems pretty tame stuff compared to the bloodthirsty standard of today, but the masterful craftsmanship of Wilkie Collins turns a seemingly mundane story into an exciting journey back to the 1840's.
The story is told through a seies of narratives relating to before, during and after the theft. One of my favourite narratives is that of Drusilla Clack, a devout christian who tries to convert anybody and everybody at any opportunity. The book is witty,often very moving and above all mysterious. It is a long story ( I estimate it at over 200,000 words ), but it is worth every word because of the atmospheric and skilful writing. I felt that I knew what it was like to live in England in the mid 1800's and my head was full of vivid pictures of the scenes described by Wilkie Collins.
Definitely one of the most readable and cleverly written books that I have ever read.
on 16 May 2014
This book by Wilkie Collins was first published in 1868 and is often considered to be the first detective novel. It's the story of the theft of a precious and cursed Indian diamond, the Moonstone, from the room of a young lady, Rachel Verinder, on the very day she inherited it. I found it an enjoyable book and an easy read. It's possible to read a chapter or two a day and not lose the thread of what's going on, although the storyline meanders somewhat with lots of red herrings and cul-de-sacs along the way. And, perhaps not surprisingly, some parts of the plot are rather implausible particularly, I thought, the re-enactment of the taking of the diamond from Rachel's rooms, done to establish how it might have been stolen.
The format of the book is very similar to Collins' earlier novel, The Woman in White, in that it is an epistolary novel with multiple narrators, each telling part of the story, and each confining himself (or herself) to what they knew from their own knowledge. Collins had legal training and this method of presenting the story is somewhat akin to witnesses giving their accounts in a court room. The characters, especially the narrators, are well developed so that their individual personalities shine through. For example, one of the main narrators, Gabriel Betteredge, an aged and long-serving servant to the Verinder family, comes across as a fine upstanding, honest man, with a dry sense of humour, an air of cynicism, and with wisdom beyond his station in life. Rachel's relative, Miss Clack, on the other hand, is shown to be a interfering busybody and a religious zealot.
My main criticism, and the reason it only gets four stars and not five, is that the novel is very long and the story could have been told in half the number of pages. Consequently, it's not a book to read if you're in a hurry to move on to something else. It better suits the reader who wants to savour the richness of the Victoria prose and enjoy the personalities of the characters. Of course, this criticism of length can be levelled at many Victorian novels and there did appear to be a belief amongst the authors of that period that you should never summarise in a sentence what could be expanded into a paragraph.
Despite being written nearly 150 years ago, some parts come across as surprisingly modern. I was much taken by this sentence which could have been written in the 21st century - "In our modern system of civilisation, celebrity (no matter of what kind) is the lever that will move anything".
on 30 December 2014
Please note that the text of the proposed edition is not complete.
You can compare the extracts of the book given by Amazon with the original text (that can be found on the Gutenberg project's website for instance). Literally one paragraph out of two has been removed.
The reading experience consequently proves extremely disapointing...
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.