Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868, 526 pgs.)

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this novel; the only thing familiar to me was the name. Most surprising to me was how easy it was to read. It is basically a British detective story in which the Moonstone, a valuable diamond stolen from a sacred shrine in India, is given as a gift to Rachel Verinder, only to have it stolen from her. The plot unfolds very slowly at first, but is tolerable due to the comical voice of a couple of the narrators. The book consists of several letters written by the characters to sort out all of the events and evidence surrounding the theft in an effort to discover who is guilty. The first and funniest is Gabriel Betteredge, the head servant of the Verinder household, who uses his worn copy of Robinson Crusoe for inspiration and guidance.
He says:

"I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad--Robinson Crusoe. When I want advice--Robinson Crusoe. In past times, when my wife plagued me--Robinson Crusoe. "

The second narrator, Mrs. Clack, the self-righteous cousin of Rachel Verinder, forces upon "perishing fellow creatures" her religious tracts--The Serpent at Home, Satan in the Hairbrush, Satan out of the Window, etc. She even goes so far as to deposit the tracts into Lady Verinder's flower pots, the bird cage, the piano, a fan, the bed--anywhere they might be discovered and lead to a much needed conversion. (I kept picturing Angela from The Office during her section.)

The following narrators were not nearly as entertaining, and the last 100 pages or so kind of dragged for me, but all in all I enjoyed it. It is considered the original modern detective story, if that's a draw for anyone. It's always fun to experience the birth of a genre!

1 comment:

  1. I read this last summer and while I liked it, I have to admit I found it a much slower read than The Woman in White, which is the only other Wilkie Collins novel I've read to date. At some point I would like to read Armadale, which has four main characters all called Allan Armadale, from what I understand. It sounds like it could be entertaining. ;D

    As for the Moonstone, I was utterly amused by Mrs. Clack. Some of the things she wrote are just so ridiculous, and she's completely unaware. "How soon may our own evil passions prove to be Oriental noblemen who pounce on us unawares!"