Monday 17 August 2020

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

At last I've read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins! Why did I wait my entire life to read this classic? I haven't a clue. No idea. It feels stupid now as it wasn't a difficult book at all and was so readable and such fun. Never mind, perhaps there's an argument that there's a time for everyone to read certain books and this was mine.

The Moonstone is my 15th. book for Bev's Mount TBR 2020 reading challenge.

It's 1848 and young Rachel Verinder has just come of age and inherited a fabulous yellow diamond known as The Moonstone. The acquisition of this stone, by an uncle in India, is dubious to say the least, likely as not he murdered to steal it from under the nose of a Hindu sect. So the thing is cursed and is also sought after by group of Hindu men pledged to retrieve it at all costs. Needless to say the inheritance is a real poisoned chalice but Rachel is unaware of this when it's given to her. Unaware enough to put it in an unlocked cabinet overnight from where, naturally, it is stolen.

So whodunnit? An elderly steward relates all that he knows about Rachel, her mother, Lady Verinder, Franklin Blake, the cousin who delivered the stone to its new owner, the servants, local acquaintances and what happened when the stone was stolen. When no more can be done the police are called in, in the shape of Sergeant Cuff, a well known solver of impossible crimes in London. It seems there are numerous suspects as there were a lot of people in the house at the time for Rachel's birthday. And one of the servants in particular has been behaving very oddly of late. Cuff has plenty of ideas but is eventually sent away by Lady Verinder, mainly because she can't bear to have a policeman in the house. So what's to be done? According to one expert, wait for year, but why?

On the cover of my copy of The Moonstone there's a quote from T.S. Eliot calling this book: 'the first and greatest of English detective novels'. I don't know if it was the first, it may be so, but it's certainly contender for 'the greatest' I would say. It's written in the same manner as The Woman in White in that the narrative is passed from person to person according to who can best testify as to what was happening at a particular time. Thus it starts with the elderly house steward, Gabriel Betteredge, an old retainer type, who gives a rambling account of the history of the family and recent happenings and believes that the answer to every problem in the world lies within the pages of his favourite novel, Robinson Crusoe. It's quite wonderful to read and very funny in places. From him we move to contributions from Miss Clack an evangelical Christian, Matthew Bluff a lawyer, the cousin, Franklin Blake, Ezra Jennings, a physician's assistant etc. It's beautifully done, very readable, full of suspense, humour and excellent characterisation.

Favourite characters for me were Gabriel Betteredge with his unwavering faith in Robinson Crusoe, Miss Clack, wonderfully drawn, worrying herself to death about people's souls and salvation, leaving her religious tracts in their houses even to the point of going into bedrooms and bathrooms. Sergeant Cuff was also nicely drawn, I wish there were more of him in the book, I loved his obsession with roses and his perpetual arguments with the gardener. I think the person I felt most sorry for was Ezra Jennings, the doctor's assistant. We don't learn the exact reason why he's down on his luck, apart from his unusual appearance which Victorian people seem unable to cope with and which has basically made him an outcast. Very sad but I suspect it wasn't unusual back then.

Oddly enough, I didn't take to Rachel Verinder very much, possibly because there was no narrative from her so her character wasn't always clear but also I found her jumping to conclusions too readily, why didn't she 'ask' a particular person about an important occurance that she witnessed? I suppose then there would have been no book. Let's face it if people in books actually communicated most of the books we read would have no plot!

So I was pretty thrilled with this book. I love Collins' writing, perhaps more than I like that of his friend, Charles Dickens. Although before I state that categorically I probably ought to read Dickens as an older (hopefully 'wiser') person. Pretty much all of the Dickens I've read I read as a teenager and I'm sure my reaction to it now would be a lot different. In the meantime I want to read more by Wilkie Collins. I own No Name and it looks like a strong contender for my next book by him although I do have a couple on my Kindle I think and of course all of his output is now available free online. We'll see. Recommendations would be welcome if anyone has read anything specific.

Naturally, I gave The Moonstone five stars on Goodreads, a crackingly good read and inspirational as I am now determined to read more of this kind of thing.



DesLily said...

Hooray!!! I too like Wilkie a bit more then Dickens! And I loved the Woman in White and Moonstone!! I'm really glad you like both books!!

Sam said...

I've read absolutely nothing by Wilkie but this is such a good review that you may have just rekindled my long-dormant desire to do so.

I don't know if you've read the Dan Simmons novel "Drood" or not but it's a long, spooky account of Dickens's attempt to complete "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" after enduring a four-year period in which he published nothing at all. It's all very eerie and also explores Collins's laudanum addiction and mistresses. It's almost 800 pages long but, believe it or not, it's an easy read. The friendship between Dickens and Collins comes across as an important one to both men.

TracyK said...

I have been looking forward to your post on this book. I know I want to read it but I don't have a copy yet. Your review makes the book very enticing, so I will have to move on that. I just want to make sure I get a copy with large enough print.

Cath said...

Pat: I thought you did. I can't think why I took so long to read The Woman in White and The Moonstone, it's mad, but now I have I've become a fan just like you.

Sam: Well, up until this year I had only read one book (plus a few ghost stories) by Collins, The Dead Secret. So you're not alone.

Yes, funnily enough I have read Drood. Apparently it was in 2012 (I just checked) and I did a short review of it here:

And it was actually my favourite book of that year. At some stage I want to read it again and perhaps I might do so in October when I like to read spooky books. It would fit well now that I've read Collins' two most famous works.

Tracy: You have a real treat in store when you do eventually get to The Moonstone! I'm dying to read more by Collins now.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Maybe I'll finally get to this one this fall if they have the RIP Challenge. I do like the sound of it.

Lark said...

I really liked this book, too! Not quite as much as The Woman in White, but close. (And I also prefer Collins' books to Dickens; I just find his writing style more accessible, though I did really like A Tale of Two Cities.)

Cath said...

Diane: The Moonstone would be *perfect* for RIP. I haven't done that challenge in quite a few years, perhaps I should this year.

Lark: Collins' work is definitely more accessible than Dickens'. He doesn't ramble on as much for a start. LOL

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

I have never read any Collins, however thanks to bloggers like yourself, the classics are very much coming back into fashion, with plenty of new posts and reviews to check out.

I see that they are going to be removing poetry as a GCSE syllabus compulsory element next year, instead making it optional. I do hope that they don't decide to remove some of the classic novels and plays too, as that would be a real shame!

This is one lovely, thoughtful review and thanks for sharing :)

Yvonne xx

Susan said...

I remember reading THE MOONSTONE in college for a Brit Lit course. Even though I couldn't remember a thing about it until I read your summary, I remember enjoying it. Maybe it's time for a re-read! I'm glad it was such a fun read for you.

Sam said...

Cath, if you re-read Drood, consider the audiobook version. I read it in a combination of audiobook and physical book mainly because the book was too large to lug around when I left the house. Some of the scenes in Drood are really spooky and ominous in the audiobook version, especially those opium houses in the city.

Rosemary said...

Cath, thanks for this most interesting review. I read The Moonstone at school and can’t remember much about it, though I did see a TV adaptation a while ago. I’m sure I have a copy somewhere and I will now add it to that precarious TBR stack.

I actually like Dickens, ramble though he does. Having been made to read some of his books at school I went right off him for years, but then picked up Great Expectations and was hooked. That, Bleak House and The Tale of Two Cities - loved them all.

I’ve never heard of Drood, but I love the sound of the opium dens, don’t you? A US friend was recently telling us about the Jewish resort she used to work at (as a teenager - she’s now 70+) in the Catskills. One of the things she remembered vividly was the Chinese cooks sitting outside int he dark, smirking and playing Mah-jong - so atmospheric.


Nan said...

I just saw on instagram that Woman in White is on the Duchess of Cornwall's summer reading list. I don't think I've read either of his books.

Judith said...

Hi Cath,
I must read The Moonstone, and I'm so glad you loved it. I, too, would like to read more of his so-called "sensation fiction." Just when to squeeze it in? I feel I have so very much to read these days. And isn't that a good thing, really, now that I think about it.

CLM said...

I read it after seeing a BBC production long ago but remember enjoying it. I liked The Woman in White too.

An RIP Challenge sounds fun - what does it involve?

Cath said...

Yvonne: Yes, I think a few people are trying out classic books now to see how it goes with them. I must admit I did most of my classic reading years ago but there were books I didn't read so am testing the waters with the easier ones.

I'm not a huge poetry fan but am still very surprised that they're removing it from the compulsory element of the GCSE syllabus. It is a part of our culture and makes us what we are so to speak. Plus, I don't think it harms students to be stretched with different or even 'difficult' concepts. What a shame.

Thank you for your kind words, have a good weekend! xxx

Susan: I don't know why but I never had to read it for English Lit. so I never ended up reading it at all, until now. Crazy.

Sam: I don't have any equipment for listening to audio books although I think my Kindle Fire could be used for that, I'll look into it.

Rosemary: Yes, there was a TV adaptation not that long ago wasn't there? I seem to recall deciding not to watch it until I'd read the book, so I never did watch it. I'll keep an eye out for repeats.

Bleak House is one of the Dickens books I want to read, also Our Mutual Friend. I've read bits and pieces of Pickwick Papers but one day soon want to read the entire thing. I could have it as a 2021 project to read through the year perhaps.

Drood is a book people either love or hate so if you try it be prepared to lose patience with it. And some people don't like its weirdness, which is precisely why I loved it of course. It's long and rambling too, another reason I loved it and I rather think that now I've read more Wilkie Collins I might get more from it with a reread. There's something fascinating about opium dens isn't there? Collins was an addict of course and one of these days I must read Thomas De Quincey's book, he was a friend and big fan of Wordsworth's and stayed with him and his sister, Dorothy, a lot in the Lake District. Her diaries mention him quite a bit.

I love hearing about people's memories such as your friend in the Catskills. How amazing.

Cath said...

Nan: Really? I shall Google that and see if I can find it. I'm always fascinated to see what famous people like and don't like. I quite like her so it might be quite interesting.

Judith: I know, so many books etc. and I'm still downloading more to my Kindle. I have however managed to read quite a few off my shelves this year so it's not a complete tale of woe. That said, make some time for The Moonstone as you will love it and not be sorry.

Constance: Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings used to run the RIP reading challenge every year and I always did it. Basically, it was to read a certain amount of spooky or mystery/cime books between the 1st. Sept and the 31st. October. It was huge fun. Lately it's being hosted by someone else and I've lost track of it a bit. I'll keep an eye out for people on my reader's list doing it and will let you know so that you can take a look to see if you fancy doing it. I may do it myself after several years, might be fun.

Kathy's Corner said...

Hi Cath, Great review! And good point about Rachel. To know her better she needed to be one of the narrators. I also felt bad for Ezra. His past is left a mystery but he was a good man who deserved better. I also liked Gabriel Betteridge and wouldn't that be great to have one book that means that much to us as Robinson Crusoe means to Gabriel. A book we carry with us everywhere and consult when problems arise.

Cath said...

Hi Kathy. Sorry, I've just found this. I forgot that I made any posts over a month old subject to moderation because of spam comments.

I see we agree on a lot of points about The Moonstone. I think it would be wonderful to have so much love for one book that you know it back to front and use it as a guide to the way you live your life. Such an interesting thing for Collins to write into the book too. He must've known RC quite well to do that.