Who knew that the Christmas holidays would be so busy? I had so many books I planned to get through and have only managed to finish just one – The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins which I was reading as part of The Sensation Season. It took me rather longer than I expected but was worth the read. Finally, here’s my review…
The plot of The Moonstone revolves around a magnificent Indian diamond. The gem is given to Rachel Verinder by her uncle on her eighteenth birthday, but it is a tainted gift as it is believed to bring ill fortune upon the owner. Only a few hours after the diamond is received by Rachel, it is stolen away on the very same night. But who stole it? The mysterious Indian jugglers? Rachel’s cousin Franklin Blake? Or could Rachel herself be responsible for its disappearance in order to cover some private debt? Inspector Sergeant Cuff is brought in to investigate.
The Moonstone is generally considered to be the first detective novel written in the English language. Serialised in 1868 around the time that the notorious Victorian Road Hill House murder case was being investigated, Wilkie Collins was obviously heavily influenced by events. The detective in charge – Sergeant Cuff’s investigation of events, behaviour and personality mirrors that of Jack Whicher (the detective who led the case at Road Hill House) including a very close reference to a little quirk – his fondness for roses. Another parallel is in one of the clues that Cuff identifies as key to the case of the disappearing Moonstone, which is a stained petticoat which was an item identified by Whicher to be of key significance in the murder at Road Hill House. Having read The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale, very recently (the review is here), I found it absolutely fascinating to notice the similarities between the factual case and Collins’ novel.
I am fast becoming a total devotee to Wilkie Collins. I love the way that the narrative of The Moonstone is developed through the narratives of various characters as it is in The Woman in White. I find it a wonderful technique as you hear the story through a variety of voices and you as the reader get to make up your mind about their own personality from their own words. For example I was entertained by the character of Miss Clack, who believes herself to be quite pious but just can’t refrain from catty comments, such as her description of Mrs Verinder’s “autumnal exuberance of figure”. Later, she is described by another character as a “rampant spinster”! which made me laugh out loud.
I liked the characters in The Moonstone. I loved the old servant, Gabriel Betterage and his obsession with Robinson Crusoe, felt duly sorry for the sad character of Rosanna Spearman and, although it took me a good while to warm to Rachel Verinder, when all was revealed I could understand her mysterious and rather frustrating silence. I couldn’t help but almost fancy the dashing Franklin Blake – is that a strange, simply from a narrative?!
I loved the plot line – a fabulous exotic gemstone, a fraught romance, murder, meddling and detective fever, but also appreciated the interesting perspective on ‘Hindoo customs’, and the way in which Collins represents the servants and their position in society.
One of the things I found both spooky and beautiful were Collins’ descriptions of the bay. The shivering sand – a deadly quicksand captured my imagination and Franklin Blake’s description of the shoreline was so evocative I could almost smell the sea air.
“The sunlight poured its unclouded beauty on every object that I could see. The exquisite freshness of the air made the mere act of living and breathing a luxury. Even the lonely little bay welcomed the morning with a show of cheerfulness; and the bared wet surface of the quicksand itself, glittering with a golden brightness, hid the horror of its false brown face under a passing smile.”
I did find The Moonstone of a slow-burner in the sense that after the initial theft and drama, there was a lot of character narrative and mis-direction, however after finishing the book I felt that this was necessary to build up the story and the suspense. Although, I didn’t love it quite as much as Armadale, (which is definitely my favourite Wilkie Collins novel so far) The Moonstone is a brilliant detective tale with a wonderful cast of characters, and I enjoyed getting a good measure of “detective fever” myself.
Have you read The Moonstone? What is your favourite detective story?