Though Wilkie Collins was long-time friends with Charles Dickens, they had drastically different writing styles, and suffered some rough patches in their relationship. In a letter to someone, Dickens talks about his thoughts on The Moonstone
: "The construction is wearisome beyond endurance, and there is a vein of obstinate conceit in it that makes enemies of readers."
What the heck? Who's this Dickens guy, anyway? What the heck does he know about writing? Sheesh!
I don't know what book the vaunted Mr. Charles Dickens read, but the book I
read was absolutely wonderful. It was hilarious, entertaining, smart, and everything else that makes a good novel. Beyond that, it was especially surprising! Being one of the first detective novels, I expected it to be rather dry. Maybe a little dull, or outdated feeling. Perhaps even a bit shallow and boring.
I'm pleased to say, that it was none of these things. For a book written in the mid-1800's this novel has a remarkably modern feel. Though the main plot is a detective-style mystery, there is a wonderful underlying social commentary aspect, all revealed through the lenses of the unique cast of characters. The story is brilliantly told by using various written narratives of different people, all which not only tease us with knowledge of the mystery at just the right pace, but also provide wildly entertaining character studies of the people writing them. From (my favorite character) the chauvinistic old butler, who wants nothing more than to serve his household faithfully while leaning upon the crutch of Robinson Crusoe
and his tobacco pipe, to the absolutely, but painfully
, hilarious distant cousin who is on a mission to convert everyone to her particular brand of christian values. Each character's narrative is written in their unique voice, and it makes you love them all even when you're hating them.
I think Collins himself puts it perfectly, when he said that, unlike examining the influence of circumstances upon character (as many other novels), this book examines the influence of character upon circumstance. This isn't some novel where you place an average person in an extraordinary situation, and watch what becomes of them. This is a novel where the extraordinary characters are the movers and shakers of the plot. Yet, even as wonderfully unique as these characters are, they are all at the same time, so wonderfully human. With the narrative style Collins chose, we are allowed insight into the characters' thought processes, and feelings; we are able to see more than what actually happens. In many other novels, this approach might generate superfluous noise, but in The Moonstone
it keeps the book churning at a page-burning pace, and allows us to appreciate the smaller aspects of the novel, even when the larger parts might normally be prepared to overshadow them.
This book almost feels like one of those "guilty pleasure books" people always try to judge others for reading, but you can hold your head high on this one. It's fun, fast-paced, and riveting, but nobody can accuse it of being shallow. Each character brings not only a unique perspective on the main plot/mystery of the novel, but also a unique perspective on the world around them. Let's explore what I mean with a couple of my favorite gentlefolk, shall we?:The old butler
"People in high life have all the luxuries to themselves-among others, the luxury of indulging their feelings. People in low life have no such privilege. Necessity, which spares our betters, has no pity on us. We learn to put our feelings back into ourselves, and to jog on with our duties as patiently as may be. I don't complain of this--I only notice it."
"There's a bottom of good sense, Mr. Franklin, in our conduct to our mothers, when they first start us on the journey of life. We are all of us more or less unwilling to be brought into this world. And we are all of us right."The self-righteous cousin, whose only want is to share her beloved tracts*
"I paid the cabman exactly his fare. He received it with an oath; upon which I instantly gave him a tract. If I had presented a pistol at his head, this abandoned wretch could hardly have exhibited greater consternation. He jumped up on his box, and, with profane exclamations of dismay, drove off furiously. Quite useless, I am happy to say! I sowed the good seed, in spite of him, by throwing a second tract in at the window of the cab."
"When I folded up my things that night--when I reflected on the true riches which I had scattered with such a lavish hand, from top to bottom of the house of my wealthy aunt--I declare I felt as free from all anxiety as if I had been a child again. I was so lighthearted that I sang a verse of the Evening Hymm. I was so lighthearted that I fell asleep before I could sing another. Quite like a child again! Quite like a child again!
So I passed the blissful night. On rising the next morning, how young I felt! I might add, how young I looked, if I were capable of dwelling on the concerns of my own perishable body. But I am not capable--and I add nothing."
Even though I could go on and on with wonderfully entertaining passages, I realize I've already over done it on the quotations, so this humble reviewer must desist before he loses himself.
Basically, read this book. If you like detective novels, or if you like Victorian novels, or if you like novels in general, read this. It's quite
fun! The true mark of a great mystery novel is that even if you know or "solved" the mystery, the book still manages to keep your attention and make you want to see the conclusion unfold for yourself. I can't imagine re-reading most mystery novels I can think of, but I can't imagine not re-reading The Moonstone again in the future. It's simply too much fun.
*A small, religious pamphlet.