If you read my post last month you will remember that I was really looking forward to reading 'The Moonstone' by Wilkie Collins. I had read his 'The Woman in White' before and I absolutely loved it so I was excited to rediscover the same vibe. After having read it have I changed my mind? I think I can say that I am not over the moon about 'The Moonstone'. 'The Woman in White' and 'The Moonstone' are both quite long stories. I have read reviews of 'The Woman in White' and that too is criticized for being verbose and long-winded but in 'The Woman in White' I found a haunting atmosphere that was very gripping and intense and that was missing in 'The Moonstone'.
Maybe it's like when a new film is hyped up and you have really high expectations and then you realise than all the best bits were in the trailer and the actual film is not so great. "Probably the best detective tale in the world" (G. K. Chesterton), "probably the very finest detective story ever written" (Dorothy L. Sayers): these are fine accolades indeed. T. S. Eliot called it "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels." I agree with the 'longest' bit.
In the late 18th century a British soldier steals a large yellow diamond from a Hindu statute in India and consequently falls under a curse. The curse follows him to England where he is shunned by his family for his bad behaviour and character. To take revenge on his family on his death he bequeaths the jewel to his neice, thereby passing the curse on to her. What's more three Indian men who have been following the owners of the Moonstone for years are determined to steal it back.
The diamond is given to Rachel for her 18th birthday by Franklin Blake who falls in love with her. The day after the stone is found missing. Was it taken by one of the guests, or the servants or the Indians? Renowned detective, Sergeant Cuff, is called in to investigate and the story in told by different characters from their point of view.
Perhaps September is not the ideal month to read such a complex novel, that requires full concentration. In September school and other activities start and I am preoccupied thinking about how this new academic year is going to pan out. At these times a book has to really grab me. When I could concentrate, I did enjoy it but most of the time I found it a bit slow, especially in the middle. I liked the use of different narrators and I particularly enjoyed the humour in Betteridge (and old servant)'s account, but in the end this device did make the story quite complicated. It distracted me and I wondered why some of the narrators were included as they clearly had no idea what was going on. The mystery of the Moonstone takes two years to resolve, with a wealth of supporting characters, points of view, side stories and lots of twists and turns. This means that the characters are very well developed, in fact they take over so that the book becomes less about the mystery and more about them. And about love and romance.
I have come to the conclusion that detective novels are not for me. Since I started Lost in Classics I have read 'The Body in the Library' by Agatha Christie and 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' by Arthur Conan Doyle. What I really loved about Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple was the old fashioned Britishness of the characters and the settings. I enjoyed both for the style of writing, I particularly loved Agatha Christie's realistic dialogues and Agatha Christie herself is a very interesting person. But the actual detecting bit doesn't impress me. I guess I have seen too many Miss Marples, CSIs and even Criminal Minds. 'The Moonstone' was perhaps the first novel to feature what has now become an overused format for a mystery - an English country house with a long list of suspects, a crew of bumbling local policemen, a detective genius, clues and “red herrings”, reenactment at the scene of the crime, and the pursuit of a disguised criminal through the streets of the city. The mystery has to really grab me to keep me going. Wilkie Collins does continue, or prehaps pre-empts focus on character but perhaps less detail could have resulted in a faster pace and a more exciting story. I read that 'The Moonstone', like many other stories at the time would have been published in weekly episodes in a magazine or newspaper. I think reading it in instalments may have been a better way to read it as it would give you a chance to breathe and to reflect on each part over time.
In October, I will read Bram Stoker's Dracula. Even knows the character Dracula but how well do you know the actual book? If you would like to join me you will find the book in different formats and versions in the BOOKS! section of this site. Check out my Instagram and Facebook throughout October for significant quotes from the novel. I will be back for another review at the end of the month.
August is the period when I am freest to travel and consequently for this month I chose to read 'A Room with a View' by E.M. Forster. Set at the beginning of the 20th century this is the love story between young, middle class Lucy Honeychurch and the unconventional George Emerson and the battle against personal, societal and familial prejudices and preconceptions.
I have a personal connection with this story as E.M. Forster went to school in Tonbridge, a neighbouring town to Tunbridge Wells, where I grew up. Tonbridge boarding school has a theatre dedicated to the author. Charlotte Bartlett, cousin and chaperone to Lucy on her trip to Florence, lives in Tunbrdige Wells that is described as a 'narrow world' and every time Charlotte referred to her town slightly apologetically, the generalization made me smile. Growing up in Tunbridge Wells I was familiar with the phrase 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells'. Tunbridge Wells is an affluent town in the region of Kent (the 'Garden of England'), previously a popular tourist destination for wealthy Londoners coming to drink its therapeutic waters. In fact the town was once so popular that Queen Victoria herself gave it the prefix 'Royal', an honour reserved for only very few towns. So Tunbridge Wells is a place where you can live a sheltered life and its inhabitants do not have a lot to complain about but they do love complaining if something does not live up to their standards or how things 'should' be. Being British and wanting to avoid direct confrontation at all costs, a resident might write to the local newspaper or even in extreme cases to The Times., signing off as 'Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.'
I have lived in Italy for 15 years now so the stereotypes and comments on Italy and the Italians also amused me. There are the typical Italian charicatures like the womanizers, romantics and fools but Italy is also referred to as a free and fluid environment without rigid class structure. It is true that being abroad away from the usual constraints and rules of your community can make you feel liberated. No one knows you or expects anything from you so you can be and do what you want. It is not that social conventions do not exist it's just that they are harder for an outsider to perceive. Social status in Italy is very much attached to your appearance and what you have. In England we generally do not attach so much importance to our clothes and more to education, career, language, accent and comportment.
'A Room with a View' is all about prejudice, misconception and the changing societies. Lucy enjoys the company of the Emersons in Florence despite her first impression of them as being unconventional or down-market. I think we could refer to them as 'nouveau-riche'. When George Emerson makes a move on Lucy, Charlotte is shocked because that is not the way a young man should behave and the cousins even feel compelled to leave town. In Rome Lucy meets Cecil who is wealthy, highly-educated, cultured and well-travelled: on paper everything Lucy should want in a husband. Lucy's family consent to their engagement: the only problem is no one likes him! Lucy believes she has everything under control until the Emersons move to her area of England and two worlds collide. When Lucy breaks off her engagement, even the stalwart Charlotte has a change of heart and avoids opposing Lucy getter closer to George. The decision the couple takes at the end of the novel is unconventional but there is a hint that also Lucy's other family members will come round.
The theme of a room with a view is repeated throughout the novel. At the beginning of the story Charlotte complains loudly about the lack of view in her and Lucy's rooms in the pension and the Emersons (who do have a view) offer to change rooms with the ladies. The significance of George offering Lucy a room with a view becomes clear later when Lucy admits that she always pictures Cecil in a room with no view. For me 'no view' means no future, no perspectives with Cecil and in contrast with George Lucy has opened up her horizons and sees an alternative ahead.
For me the novel's main message is that even the best laid plans go wrong. We may like to think we can control every aspect of our lives but then life happens.
'Everything is fate. We are flung together by Fate, drawn apart by Fate - flung together, drawn apart. The twelve winds blow us . we settle nothing - .'
In September I will be reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. I chose to read this novel this month because this time last year I read Sherlock Holmes so I decided to read a crime novel again this year. I love crime novels and Wilkie Collins' 'The Woman in White' is one of my favourite novels. I will be posting some quotes as I read on Instagram and Fcaebook so please follow me and read along!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.