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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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...
on 29 May 2016
In his excellent introduction, John Sutherland says that Charles Dickens praised the early instalments of the Moonstone. but later found fault with it. He couldn't understand why, so this latter-day Dickens will try to explain.
The narrative of Gabriel Betteredge, which introduces the characters, setting and plot is brilliant - informative, amusing, and well-judged. We get to know this charming, old-fashioned old buffer, with his passion for Robinson Crusoe; and we are intrigued by the exotic background to the "unlucky jewel". And the circumstances of the theft are as much a mystery to us as they are to the characters in the book. In other words, a great set-up.
Then it starts to go wrong: first, a plot weakness, then an unbelievable suicide note; then a preposterous reconstruction. The second half of the book is so disappointing. I put it down partly to "serialitis", and (with Mr Sutherland's intro in mind) the author's poor health and drug dependence.
(By "serialitis" I mean the practice of dragging out a story issued in instalments when it has proved to be a success. For an extreme example, see "The Count of Monte Cristo". Modern example? Game of Thrones.)
The second narrative, that of Drusilla Clack is promising. Miss Clack is a tiresome god-botherer and Collins had a lot of fun with her character - but she too is intelligent and observant. During the early part of her narrative the mystery seems to be nearing a solution. We hear about the attacks on Godfrey Ablewhite and moneylender Septimus Luker, and the bank deposit of a precious jewel by Luker. "The Moonstone?" asks Rachel. The shrewd lawyer Mr Bruff thinks so. He also points out that Ablewhite was the first to leave Yorkshire for London, and thinks that things look bad for him.
So.... we just need the police to establish whether the "precious jewel" is indeed the Moonstone and to force Luker to say who pledged it. But nothing happens. This thread is left hanging. So for the next 250 pages I'm thinking, it's Ablewhite. So when it turns out to be the case, it's a huge anti-climax.
Much of the second half of the book is the narrative of Franklin Blake. Blake has been presented as an interesting modern character with a multi-cultural background: yet his narrative is matter-of-fact and rather dull. But what about that buried confession by Rosanna Spearman? A 20-page suicide note? That reads like another narrative deposition? Credibility is strained to the utmost.
Much of the last quarter of the book is given over to the reconstruction of the night of the theft. The whole idea is utterly preposterous, yet at the same time predictable. The character of Ezra Jennings is surplus to requirements anyway - the author could have expanded and changed the role of Dr Candy to deal with Jennings part of the story. I'm not impressed by Sergeant Cuff - he comes to the wrong conclusion and fails to solve the mystery, in fact he's no more effective than the boneheaded local bobbies.
But in spite of the above, there is a lot to admire in this book. A huge effort has gone into the construction of the story, and in the creation of a cast of interesting and (largely) believable characters. Above all, the book is a work of great originality (though much imitated since).
Btw, you can't sink into quicksand over your head, except in fiction. The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Woman in Black, and several other works repeat this canard.