Thursday, February 12, 2015

Book Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)

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Wilkie Collins (English novelist and playwright, 1824 – 1889)

I can’t remember Wilkie Collins ever being mentioned back in my English Literature studies (long time ago); but looking him up now, I learn that he was a contemporary and friend of Charles Dickens; and The Moonstone originally published in Dickens’ magazine All the Year Round.

Collins is also mentioned together with Dickens in Baugh’s A Literary History of England, which sits in my bookcase (a heavy volume of 1800 pages that does not get taken down very often now that it’s so easy to look things up online instead).

It seems they both had some influence on each other:

Dickens’ shift from novels of humous character to novels of sensational intrigue was partly due to Collins’ precepts and example. But there are differences. Whereas Dickens conceived his characters and then invented a plot to set them in motion, Collins invented his plot and then fitted characters into it.

Image result for wilkie collins the moonstone

The Moonstone is an “epistolary” novel, told in basically chronological order, but at the same time narrated through a number of different charcaters, each adding their own perspective and “flavour”. The story also turns out more complex than one might at first be deceived to believe; time and again we are sidetracked and led astray along with the narrators, as each of them can only see the events in his/her own light, and no one (for a long time) understands to interpret all the facts correctly.

The moonstone is a precious jewel originating from India – its background is explained at the very beginning of the novel, but most of the story takes place in Britain (in the late 1840s). The style of Dickens did come to mind for me often during the reading; but the first parts, narrated from the perspective of servants at the big country estate where the events take place, also led my thoughts to the recent (and still to be continued, I think) BBC TV series Downton Abbey.

Actually, one aspect of The Moonstone that strikes me as kind of “ahead of its time” compared to many other novels from the same period, is the fact that the narration does include the perspective of both masters and servants.

Parts of the story tend to get a little long-winded; but at the same time, suspense is kept up. I think one has to consider that it was originally published in episodes not unlike modern TV series (like Downton), with parts of the events getting explained or solved along the way, but other things still remaining a mystery until the very end.

As for the final whodunit revelations, I could say that at some point earlier I did sort of guess at it – I think – but then again, I could probably have said the same whoever turned out guilty, as suspicions did tend to shift quite a few times along the way!

I would recommend this book to those who also enjoy for example Dickens, detective stories like Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes – and upstairs / downstairs series like Downton Abbey!

I can also recommend the Audible companion to the Kindle edition of the book, read by James Langton; a very enjoyable narration. (I read some chapters on Kindle, and listened to others.) The ebook was free and the audio addition cheap ($3.44).

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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A question on the theme of
Love Stories
from DEB at Booking Through Thursday
(February 12, 2015)

“I’m not asking if you like romances … what I want to know is what is it about stories that you love? Is it the stories themselves? The people? The plot twists?”

Timely question for me, as was thinking about that while reading the book reviewed above anyway; and not least when pondering about the quote from A Literary History of England, about the difference between Dickens and Collins – Dickens inventing the characters first, and then the plot; Collins starting with the plot, and then fitting characters into it.

While I do appreciate a clever plot with twists and turns, it is often the characters, and also the “setting” of a novel (if well described) that stay with me in the long run, rather than the details – actually, astonishingly often, even such details as who in the end turned out to be the murderer in a murder story.

I suppose the best books are really those where it all comes together and both characters and some of the basic plot stick in memory, but which are also so well written that you can still enjoy rereading them after a certain time.

With The Moonstone, just having finished it, I feel that some of the characters stand out more than others; and not all quite in relation to their importance to the plot. There are also some plot twists in this book that might well have a potential for being memorable. And I guess the fact that it still seems to be quite widely read after nearly 150 years supports that many find it still standing up rather well to the Test of Time.

13 comments:

  1. Sounds like one I would enjoy, will go looking.

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    1. The good thing with the old classics nowadays is that one can always download and have a closer look and it costs nothing to try! :)

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  2. the story is what i love in books or movies. we started watching a movie last night and i said what is this about? is their a story? we deleted it and did not watch it... i love a good story and i think that is why i don't read anything but fiction.

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    1. I like a good story too, and well told... If I don't like a book or movie I usually give it up too. But there have also been some that failed to catch my interest at one time but when I tried again years later I felt differently about it.

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  3. I am so glad you did review it! Wow, I love both Sherlock and Downtown, so this book would be made for me! You know, I was going to say that the characters are what I remember and like the most. But then again, there are only TWO books that I can remember any standout character! What I do remember are the wonderful plots and storytelling.

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    1. Now you have me curious... What two books?? :)
      I think the more the characters and the story are intertwined, the better I probably remember both...

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  4. This sounds great, Monica! I think I am going to look for the ebook myself.

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    1. Knowing you're used to reading classics Meike, I suspect there's a good chance you'll enjoy it.

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    2. Downloaded it to my kindle yesterday :-)

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  5. Not a writer I've ever heard of either. I'm not a fan of Dickens and I don't think I'll be reading Collins either. Ah well. There's plenty of other authors out there.

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    1. You're certainly right about that, Graham - plenty of other books and authors out there, if you don't happen to be a fan of the mid 1800s long-winded style of narration. Should you ever want a condensed version, there is a BBC TV mini series from 1996 available on DVD. I ordered that while reading the book, and watched it after I wrote the book review. It actually makes a fairly good job - better than I expected! - of shrinking the story down to just over 2 hours; to be compared to the audio book requiring nearly 19 hours of listening. (But obviously, it also means leaving out a few things...)

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  6. This is so interesting! I've only heard of Collins in passing but now I'm thinking I should give him a go. Also, I received the calendar - it's beautiful!

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  7. Glad to know the calendar arrived, Rae. As for Collins, I did like The Moonstone well enough to also feel curious to try The Woman in White (another one of his).

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