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.