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I have just finished reading this story, a feat that took me less than two days to accomplish in spite of the book's intimidating size. I rarely read a book and pay no heed to the page numbers but with this one I read it from cover to cover without a glance. The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins is stupendous and I am at a loss of where to start.
The story is well thought out and goes in directions I never anticipated in my wildest dreams. Wilkie Collins played with my intellect the whole way through by throwing out clues as to what was really happening and then dissolving them to keep you guessing. I assumed like a lot of people that Anne Catherick was Sir Percival's daughter or his lover, anything but the reality! Collins hangs out the suspension and keeps you guessing until the very last moment when he reveals the last thing in the world that you expected. While you're twisting around in your seat trying to second guess the impossible, Collins never lets up while the story just keeps hotting up. The story gripped me to the edge of my seat, made me laugh, cry and shout out. I have few times read a story where I felt so very intimate with the characters that they could be my friends as this, astonishing skill considering the sheer number of characters I was feeling for. Normally I find myself stretched thin like butter over too much bread in a character overloaded story and this was not. It was perfect.
And what characters! I confess my all time favourite is Count Fosco. The lovable, hateful, frightening and beautifully sinister manipulation of the count underlies this whole narrative, his influence with his little white mice and his Twit! Twit! Twit! birds of paradise causing every bane that came to pass and yet I adored him! To hate a baddie is one thing but to love him quite another. I fell for the count's charm, his love of pets, his genteelness and unassailable cleverness. I confess I almost wished the count had succeeded. Heavens, he earned it but for the one weakness in his plan. That being said, I did feel a certain satisfaction when at the end of the story the count ended up dead. He went as far as he could but ultimately an evil man like that MUST get his comeuppance.
Mr Fairlie also gripped me to the pages. Loathsomely self-pitying and pathetic as he was, he always made me laugh and shake my head meaningfully. He was the greatest frustration in the entire story. If Mr Fairlie had simply stopped being selfish none of it would have happened! I cursed the man as well as thanked him for giving me so much entertainment with his singular dialogue, 'She squeaked! How did she squeak? her shoes?' 'Her stay, my lord.' 'How singular? Hold up my paintings up, Louis.' While simultaneously wanting to reach into the pages and shake him to his senses. Fantastic characterisation that touched on every level. I so adored Mr Fairlies antics that I felt sad at the end when he die. The count was wrong in proclaiming that Mr Fairlie would live forever. Like I said though, all bad men need their comeuppance and Fairlie was a bad and selfish man.
I mention these two characters but we must not forget the others. Marian Halcombe, Walter Hartright, Madam Fosco, Sir Percival Glyde (hateful man), Mrs. Catherick...I could go on all day to name but a few of the totally unique cast of The Woman In White, each of which brings his own presence and meaning on every page. Even the minor characters such as Professor Pesca and Margaret Porcher were irreplaceable and no one character was surplus.
I appreciate the amount of effort Collins went to connect everything up in this intricate web of a tale. Even from the smallest details mentioned earlier on, nothing happened out of context or without forewarning. The masterpiece work of art has a hundred thousand links running through it from beginning to end, all tied up neatly. It humbles even the great Christopher Nolan with his masterpiece Inception! It is one of those books that the moment I have finished with it, I want to pick up and start from the beginning again, to see if I missed anything and I'm sure I did. I don't doubt this to be more intricately weaved together than I saw at first glance.
To add more to this endless compliment to Wilkie Collins, his skill in writing blows my mind. Drawn into the colourful descriptions, I could see it all in and never doubted how a place or a character looked or his demeanor and I never got bored as is often the case with descriptions. There are a great many exposition chapters in The Woman In White, whereby Collins gives us background information and details on situations. These had the potential of being boring too but they never were. I read each and every word and understood. I knew what was going on (or at least I thought I did at the time) every step of the way, a mark of a marvellous writer.
To quote but a few of my favourite passages:
"The best men are not consistent in good-why should the worst men be consistent in evil?" Walter Hartright about Count Fosco.
"The springs of my life fell low and the shuddering of the unutterable dread crept over me from head to toe." Walter Hartright seeing Anne Catherick at the grave of Laura Fairlie.
"Any woman who is sure of her own wits is a match at any time for a man who is not sure of his own temper." Marian Halcombe.
"He fixed his unfathomable grey eyes on me, with that cold, clear irresistible glitter in them, which always forces me to look at him, and always makes me uneasy while I look. An unutterable suspicion that his mind is prying into mine overcomes me at these times, and it overcame me now" Marian Halcombe facing Count Fosco.
Forgive my rambling. I am awed. I encourage anybody to read The Woman In White and don't be put off by it's immense size. It is 672 pages of solid gold without a wasted word or passage among it.
Wilkie Collins is renowned from his era as a master of mystery and suspense and The Woman in White certainly proves that mastery.
Writing in the style of composite narratives from different pens, Collins compiles `history' and testimony to construct a complete narrative of a tale full of twists and turns, colourful characters and elaborate schemes. There is not a part of this novel that is not relevant in some way, not a name that has no part to play.
Collins draws on his legal experience to sift out irrelevance and tells us more than once that only those details required by the case in point are here told. The result is that readers don't lose interest and don't lose the thread despite the near 500 page length. It certainly doesn't feel like 500 pages when it reaches its satisfying conclusion.
It's a tale that could still be true 150 years after its publication - something that many people now pay insurances against - making it all the more engaging. Who is not just slightly paranoid about what other people might do that could send our lives spiralling out of control?
I can't think of a single negative point to make about this book. I only wish Collins were around to make book-signing tours - I'd love a signed copy!
This may be a slow-going novel but its contents outweigh any classic I've read by the likes of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters. I say this because the story not only addresses the romance forbidden between Walter and Laura but also observes the impact of the law on vulnerable women trapped in loveless marriage or locked away from society. Through the inclusion of the law, we gain an enriching insight into how Laura Fairlie's inheritance can suffer in the hands of a wayward husband, as well as the reason why two partners cannot comfortably marry if their social ranks are too far apart - a dilemma later resolved by the rise and fall of various fortunes.
I liked the level of detail, and though it could be slow at times, mainly due to my eagerness and interest in the plot, I liked even more the striking modernity of the characters themselves. For instance, there were two observations which struck me as still applicable to our times and those were Mr Fairlie's and Count Fosco's: the former lamented the burden single people must bear for married couples with problems; while the latter remarked on the irony of being honest, stating how a poor man could borrow frequently from his friends without issue, whereas a rich man who seldom borrowed would be treated without the same sympathy. My favourite character in the novel is by far Count Fosco, whose conflicting emotions towards Marian Fairlie soon become his fatal flaw and reveal a strange kind of villain not many choose to portray. Frankly, I found myself astounded how such a villain could have so many fingers in so many pies (literally and figuratively speaking!) yet refrain from acting destructively, simply because he could; his lack of excessive evil is something to be admired.
There were moments in the plot that surprised me, like [spoiler alert] Laura and Anne exchanging places and how deviously Laura was deceived into leaving Blackwater Park. Everything had a reason and everything had an answer and I didn't find anything implausible - I think the revelation that Sir Percival is not himself was wonderfully done!
All in all, I am now a fan of Wilkie Collins, who I'd never heard of before I downloaded this e-book for free. I like to think his writing, based on this example, must be greater than Charles Dickens himself, and if this proves to be consistently so, then what a terrible injustice, to prefer Dickens over Collins the world over!