Sunday, 17 January 2016

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

"I address these lines --- written in India --- to my relatives in England."

The Moonstone ........ a yellow diamond, sacred to the Indian people, guarded over by an ancient curse and three Brahmins devoted to its preservation. Yet the revered diamond is stolen.  Time passes, and the Moonstone ends up in the hands of Colonel Hearncastle who returns to England with the ill-fated gem. Angry at the relatives who shun his advances, he leaves the Moonstone in his will to his niece, Rachel Verinder.  Did the Colonel leave the stone as a profitable legacy, or was it intended to wreak destruction on those who had earlier rejected his gruff overtures?

Rachel's cousin, Franklin Blake, arrives with the diamond, which is to be bestowed on her during her eighteenth birthday party at her mother's Yorkshire estate. However, there are already disturbing echoes of disruption within the family home.  A housemaid, Rosanna Spearman, a reformed thief, appears both agitated and love-stricken, exhibiting suspicious behaviour, and three Indian jugglers are spotted in town.  The culmination of these oddities result in the diamond disappearing the night it is given to Rachel.  Who perpetrated the theft?  Why is Rachel behaving with a reckless and stubborn agitation? Rosanna's death further complicates the situation and finally Sergeant Cuff, a respected policemen from London is called in to solve the mystery.

source Wikipedia


Considered one of the first detective novels, The Moonstone was bathed in a shower of critical acclaim.  T.S. Eliot claimed that it was "the first, the longest and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Wilkie Collins and not by Poe."  Dorothy Sayers, writer of the Peter Wimsey mysteries, hailed it as "probably the very finest detective novel ever written," and G.K. Chesterton, creator of the detective Father Brown, declared it "the best detective tale in the world."  Collins himself was attempting an inversion of his earlier novel of suspense, The Woman In White, where he designed the circumstances to affect the characters of the novel.  With The Moonstone, Collins chose to turn that premise on its head and investigate how different characters influence their circumstances.  The characters are sometimes wrong and at other times right in their perceptions, but nevertheless each works to shape the outcome of a situation.  This psychological experiment was a brilliant invention of Collins, adding more mystery and suspense to a story already ripe with uncertainty.

Luckily, I chose to read this one on vacation over the Christmas holidays and was able to fly through it in 2 days with it glued to my hands.  I could hardly put it down, a tribute to Collins' powerful and cryptic narrative.  The story is a wee bit sensational but being a detective novel, I don't think it affected the story in a negative way.  The characters are all well delineated (except one is rather overdone; I'll leave you to guess which one) and the method of presenting the novel in an epistolary style is again, an unusual but effective technique. Collins' The Moonstone was a great way to start off a year of reading!


19 comments:

  1. Glad to hear you enjoyed this so much! I have very fond memories of reading The Moonstone, and yet I recall very little about it. Mostly that it was a page turner and the unique structure. I didn't realize it had been so highly praised by so many other authors. Hmm...maybe it's due for a reread?

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    1. It might just be the time for a re-read, especially if you've forgotten the plot. It will be new and exciting all over again! I was actually surprised at the accolades too. While I liked his The Woman in White, I found it rather sensational, not something I'd call "high" literature. But in his own niche, Collins is pretty awesome for exciting plots.

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  2. What a nice review/commentary! The Moonstone is one of my all time favorite classic detective novels. It always tempts me: I want to read Robinson Crusoe when I finish Collins' novel.

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    1. Yes, me too, R.T.! I had such an urge to read Robinson Crusoe every time Betteridge mentioned it! Titty from Swallows and Amazons mentions Crusoe too, if you're ever in the mood for an excellent children's book.

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  3. This sounds like a good one! I loved The Woman in White, so I'm glad to hear this is also a page-turner. (Might work for book 3 of the Reading England challenge, hm...)

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    1. I liked this one better than The Woman in White. It's different but I found it to be more, mature solid writing. It might be relaxing after your mind-bending experience with Lucretius! ;-)

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  4. This book is one of the bestest long form detective novels ever. I love the ultimate solution as well as characters especially Gabriel Betteredge :) I agree the novel is tends towards sensationalism, but considering the genre and the age it was written in, that seems to quite in sync. I remember reading it through 2 nights, during a college vacation...its one of those books!

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    1. Betteredge was my favourite character too. A little hard on his wife, but at least nice to his daughter. I think the (mild) sensationalism works with this novel. With The Woman in White, for me, it got somewhat tiresome about ¾ of the way through. In spite of Collins' joy at his portrayal of Miss Clack (dictated while he was sick in bed), the portrayal of her drove me nuts, and the humour got old really quickly. Characters in the novel also responded to her in less than credible ways, so I found her the one weakness in the book. Otherwise it was just fantastic.

      You read it in two days too? Ooo, great minds ...... act alike???

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  5. Eww, I have to read this one. I haven't read any Collins, yet. Should one read The Woman in White before this?

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    1. Ooo, that's a good question. Both are quite suspenseful. I liked The Moonstone better than The Woman in White because I found the writing more mature and solid. With The Woman in White, I was enthralled until about ¾ of the way through and then thought Wilkie kind of lost the reader by dragging it out. And it was very sensationalistic. So, for me, I'm glad that I read what I thought the weaker novel first. But both are quite exciting so whatever way you choose to go, it's not probably going to make much difference.

      I'm a little hesitant to read more Collins because I know his other novels won't measure up to this one. I need to take a little time to adjust my expectations.

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  6. I started this before Christmas, then had to put it down because I just didn't have time for it right then. I hope to pick it up again next month some time, because I did like the first few chapters.

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    1. I hope that you're able to return to it. It's nice to have some time to read it, to allow yourself to get taken up with the story. I'll be interested to know what you think when you finish!

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  7. I also read this during one of my summer holidays - thankfully. Because, like you, I could barely put it down and devoured it in a few quick days.
    I read No Name a little while ago & thoroughly enjoyed it too. I feel pretty safe in his hands now :-)

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    1. That's really good to know, Brona. Someone else mentioned that they really liked The Law and the Lady, so I now have two books that I can trust will be vintage Collins! I just have to find some more I-can't-put-it-down time. :-)

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  8. LOVE this book! I was the same, could not put it down. I think it's my favourite one, but I love The Woman and White and Basil a great deal too! Must read more Collins, I don't know why I don't! :)

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    1. "Must read more Collins, I don't know why I don't! :)"

      I was thinking the same thing after I finished this novel. I might try to squeak another one in before the end of the year.

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    2. Same here. Going to go for No Name, though I have Armadale as well... Love Collins - reading him is a treat :)

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  9. I really liked this one, too. I picked up one of his others - I think it was The Two Destinies but it didn't inspire me at the time. I think there was quite a lot of the supernatural which may have turned me off??

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    1. I haven't heard of The Two Destinies. The supernatural in novels can be either good or really bad depending on how the author handles it. I think I'll try The Law and the Lady, No Name, or Armadale next.

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