Friday, November 13, 2009

The Moonstone

I was inspired to select The Moonstone (Oxford World's Classics) from the tottering TBR pile so that I could get a more out of the Wilkie Collins tour sponsered by the Classics Circuit. It was a great choice--I'm glad I finally got around to reading it and can put a tick mark next to it on the list of classics read--but it wasn't necessarily a great book. A good book, yes, by all means, but not great.

More than anything else, The Moonstone is a mystery story. Told from the point-of-view of several characters, some quite minor to the plot actually, the narrative is a series of recollections that sometimes sound as if they were legal statements for a trial. While I can appreciate the air of authenticity this gives to the fiction, it does tend to get a bit tedious, especially if the characters are long-winded. I did think that Collins did a superb job in staying in character, with each of the narrators having their own distinct voice.

Also, considering that the novel first was published serially, Collins did an incredible job in keeping his details straight as he unfolded the mystery. It's hard enough to keep a story bounded from beginning to end anyway, but to do so without being able to revise the beginning to suit how the end evolves is simply staggering.

There are a fair number of interesting characters--Cuff and Bruff, the detective and the lawyer, the trio of cousins (Rachel, Godfrey, and Franklin), the Robinson Crusoe-reading steward Betteridge and his lady's maid daughter, and my favorite, Ezra Jennings, an opium addict who solves the mystery, at least 90% of it. I see a lot of Dickensian characterization particularly in the latter part of the book--for example, Octavius Guy (aka 'Gooseberry'), the little boy who works for Mr. Bruff, is afflicted with eyes that "projected so far, and they rolled about so loosely, that you wondered uneasily why they remained in their sockets."

Although in my last post on The Moonstone, I did include a couple of passages, I found the book remarkably thin when it came to passages that stirred my soul, challenged my intellect, or left me breathless with admiration. In other words, Collins told a good, interesting story but I didn't come away from reading it thinking that it had changed me in any way.

A good book, but not a great one. Now I need to get the movie on order!


  1. I liked The Woman in White and Armadale much more than the Moonstone, which just never left me breathless the way the others did. I liked The Moonstone, but it felt more like a puzzle to be solved, while Woman in White and Armadale are more like thrill rides.

  2. Detective or mystery stories are not my favourite reads so ... after reading your "tepid" review, I don't think I'll ever read "The Moonstone". Though the movie is in my TBW list and I am very curious to see it, now. You'll read about my watching very soon! Enjoy the weekend!

  3. I've never read any Collins. In fact, I'd barely heard of him before I started blogging. Have you read other Collins' books?

  4. Teresa - I'll have to get Armadale. As a reader of Victorian lit, I do want to read more of Collins. I definitely liked the place The Moonstone holds in terms of genre and thought it worth reading for that alone.

    Maria - I'm in line for the movie from the library (Netflix didn't have the Greg Wise version, go figure!), so we can compare notes :)

    Lisa - I read the Woman in White so long ago it hardly counts. I definitely need to reread it.

  5. I loved The Moonstone, and I'm glad you liked it. Sure, there are better books out there, but this one is so much fun! I appreciated the voices of the characters more this last time I read it -- I found them so amusing this time around.

  6. I think the Moonstone will be the next Collins book for me so it's great to hear people say they like it. Do you think Ezra Jennings paved the way for the cocaine addicted Holmes?

  7. I didn't love the Moonstone but did love Collins' characterizations.

    He did write out the plan for the entire novel before he began writing it!

  8. I haven't read it, but I have just started reading The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, the real-life detective story which inspired Wilkie Collins' book.

    This book is a bookcrossing book - I found it and registered it, and I'm going to finish reading it in Florence next week, leaving it there for someone else to hopefully find and read: