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on 28 September 2016
[Spoiler alert]

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.
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on 21 February 2012
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!
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on 6 May 2013
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!
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Penned by Wilkie Collins ‘The King of Sensation’ this is his best novel, and arguably the best sensation novel ever written. With greater literacy in this country and the public’s desire of reading about crime, sensation fiction, which is really an offshoot of gothic fiction, was the sub-genre that really caught people’s imaginations. With coincidences, lurid crimes such as bigamy and adultery amongst others, these stories were full of melodrama and people’s real fears, all set in more normal settings. This story here is told in a multiple narrative form as the tale is progressed by different characters. So although we start and finish with Walter Hartright we have others to fill in the gap between his departure from these shores, and his eventual return.

As Walter’s Italian friend Pesca tells him of a good job going at Limmeridge House in Cumberland as a drawing master for two young ladies Walter applies and gets the post, where he falls in love with Laura, one of his students. Before he departs from London though he aids a woman in white, Anne Catherick, whose shadow is cast throughout this tale, and who gives an impression of knowing something that could damage another. As Laura is betrothed to another, Sir Percival Glyde, Walter finds himself setting off abroad. But is Percival the ideal man to marry?

As we read this we see that Sir Percival, with his friend Count Fosco are wrong ‘uns and Percival is more interested in how much money Laura can bring him than in the lady herself. As plans are laid to get all of Laura’s money it seems that only Laura’s half sister Marian has any inkling that something is afoot. Following a trail of deception, trying to destroy evidence, treachery and trickery all mentioned in this book along with other crimes this is still a well loved book today, and with good reason. When written though, for the people in that age this also showed the limitations of the law, and something that still causes fear today, the meaning of personal identity. This and other sensation novels are really the beginnings for us of our crime novels and psychological thrillers that are so popular. I know for one that I am not the only person who has read this many times and have never tired of the story. Indeed in its day it was a hit with the reading public, although ironically not with critics, although today you would be hard pressed to find a critic who would slate this book.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 4 December 2014
This book brings back so many memories I first read it at school and we all struggled at first, it seemed so long and the descriptions went on forever and ever, we were young and had TV at our fingertips so reading long sections of this book for homework wasn't our first choice.
I was lucky that I had a really fantastic English teacher and she brought me and the rest of the class round, well nearly all of us anyway. She read the description of Count Fosco and explained that the audience at the time most likely wouldn't have come across an Italian so the descriptions had to be good and they are.
I also remember being fascinated by the fact that this was originally published as a serial story,
I still have my original copy from school sitting on my shelves, I've kept it all these years and yes we're talking a lot of years.
This isn't a quick easy read, it's long the descriptions go on for pages it truly is a classic gothic mystery, a book to lose yourself in but it takes patience and I'm not sure if I'd feel the same way if I was approaching it fresh today. I actually re-read it about a year ago and I enjoyed it but I'm not sure how much was the book itself and how much was the memories and feelings it evoked from my youth.
I will always love this book but I'm not sure I'm capable of giving an unbiased review and so it's 5 stars from me.
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on 25 May 2016
I first read this book many years ago and vowed to read it again in the future - which I have just done. The writing is beautiful and I indulged in every word. That said, there were too many words! It's very long winded in places and at times, I was tempted to skip a few pages but I knew that this risked missing some vital information to solve the mystery. The plot is well executed with lots of misdirection and reader manipulation which all adds to the mysterious shenanigans at Limmeridge House and Blackwater Park.

The characters form an interesting and unique cast - a true motley bunch! But their interpersonal relationships worked because of conflict created by their differences and personal agendas.

However, I was disappointed with the last 25% of the book in that I'd already figured out what was what but was still hoping for a final, unexpected twist which unfortunately didn't happen. I was glad to reach the end but overall, am very happy that I took the time to read it again and indulge in the wonderful storytelling.
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on 25 September 2015
Five full stars to this book. It deserves them if only for the language, and the oddity, of one of the worst characters of the story, Frederick Fairlie.
"I hardly dare hope to enjoy much of your society" he said to someone he didn't wish to see anymore, and this is only an example of the extravagant speech with which he used to astonish the few people who were admitted to his rooms.
The whole of the story is instead amazing. It is quite long but there seem to be no exceeding parts. It appeared in installments on Charles Dickens' magazine All the Year Round, so the text didn't in all likelihood pass through any final revision, but its reading never gives the sensation of a late rearrangement of the plot; it gives indeed the sensation that writing was at the time intended more as a profession than a mere means to display one's abilities.
The Woman in White is also a perfect journey into the life of the nineteenth century, more genuine because Collins wrote about his own times. It is interesting to see how people could easily communicate before the advent of the telephone, and that the possibilities of doing things by way of means of communication were no lesser than today:

[...] I wrote to Marian, to tell her that I was safe and well, and that I had fair prospects of success. I had directed her, on leaving home, to address the first letter she wrote to me (the letter I expected to receive the next morning) to "The Post-Office, Welmingham," and I now begged her to send her second day's letter to the same address. I could easily receive it by writing to the postmaster if I happened to be away from the town when it arrived."

"I signed and dated these lines, enclosed them in an envelope, and sealed it up. On the outside I wrote this direction: “keep the enclosure unopened until nine o'clock to-morrow morning. If you do not hear from me, or see me, before that time, break the seal when the clock strikes, and read the contents.” I added my initials, and protected the whole by enclosing it in a second sealed envelope, addressed to Pesca at his lodgings."
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VINE VOICEon 5 November 2009
Chilling, thrilling, mysterious and very dramatic! A mysterious figure, a woman in white, appears out of nowhere on a London street at midnight - she is running away from someone or something. The only person she meets on that lonely road is Walter Hartright, an Art teacher, and little does he know it but he is about to have his life tured upside down. Mysterious letters, ghostly figures by gravesides, kidnapping and poison all follow through the next 700 pages and not a word is wasted! Narrated by several different characters, all portraying their their own experiences, the reader sees the story unfolding before them.

Written as a serialised stroy in a weekly newspaper in 1860, you can almost hear the curtain falling and the audience gasping at the end of each chapter. I could just imagie myself waiting excitedly for each installment to come out to find out what happens next just as they would have when it was published. For a victorian novel, The Woman in White is incredibly fast paced with some of the best characters I have ever come across.

I just loved this book from start to finish. This is what a book should be - something that makes you think about it when you can't get to it and excited to pick it up again. Bravo Mr Collins!! I can't wait to read more of your work.
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on 12 December 2012
"The Woman in White" has so many elements to it that contribute in making it such an engrossing read, that they are almost too numerous to mention. There is a mix of genres; suspense, mystery, romance and crime that all fuse seamlessly under Collins' excellent mastery of language.

The main characters of Marian and Walter are crafted elegantly with personalities that seem to leap from the page. The plight of the lovestruck Walter feels so hopeless at times and his agony at being parted from the innocent and beautiful Laura is more heart-wrenching than you would imagine. Marian, stoic and sensible, desperately tries to evade the villainous Sir Glyde's plans for her beautiful but almost child-like sister. However, there is always a sense that events will not end easily.

The novel is an interesting exploration into the conventions of marriage and it's financial benefits in the 19th Century, albeit in a more subtle manner than, for example, Pride and Prejudice. The subtlety is a great positive as Collins does not make any message he looks to impart, overbear the plot itself. Never fear though as "The Woman in White" doesn't just examine socio-political themes but is also a genuinely gripping mystery novel. I found myself shocked at two turn of events and actually had to stop reading, a certain sign that a book is truly well written.

It is certainly long at over 650 pages but investing your time is well worth it. The language is beautiful but relatively easy to read. It is not "flowery" or overwrought but quietly emotional.

Regarding the plethora of characters within the novel, Count Fosco, with his penchant for a variety of pets and his subsequent obsessive love, is an amusing protagonist despite his role and even the more minor characters like Pesca and Madame Rubelle are fully formed entities rather than mere words on a page.

I would certainly recommend "The Woman in White" as a different approach to a 19th Century romance which uses mystery and a subtle sense of unease to really alter your opinion of the genre.
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on 28 August 2015
I am obviously amongst the minority here as most people seem to love this book. For me it read just like it was originally, a good idea strung out into more episodes to keep readers buying the weeklies. Read in the context of being pioneering in it's genre it is certainly impressive and I found the first third of the book quite enthralling, but from there on it rather lost its way for me and by the end, after one false crescendo, it limped home and I was happy to be able to put it down and move on to something where quality was not confused with quantity.
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