Tag Archives: Wilkie Collins

Venice: A literary list

At the beginning of January I put up a post about my wonderful Christmas present – a trip to Venice, and after I asked other bibliophiles for their recommendations of what to read on holiday, I was nearly as excited about my final choices as the trip itself! Thank you everyone who helped out with my holiday list!

I couldn’t reduce the list to anything less than five, but as they are mostly novellas or short stories. Here they are:

Don’t Look Now & Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier (Review here)

Death in Venice – Thomas Mann (Review here)

Death a la Fenice – Donna Leon

The Haunted Hotel – Wilkie Collins (Review here)

The Passion – Jeanette Winters (Review here)

The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins

Happy new year everyone!

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 oneThe 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?

Booking Through Thursday – Thankful Thursday

Booking Through Thursday

A weekly meme.

This weeks question:

It’s Thanksgiving in the U.S.A. today, so I know at least some of you are going to be as busy with turkey and family as I will be, so this week’s question is a simple one:

What books and authors are you particularly thankful for this year?

This year I’m thankful for Alan Bennett and his wonderful Uncommon Reader which was short but sweet and made me smile. I keep forgetting it’s fiction and keep thinking of the Queen as this lovely bookaholic lady.

A close second would be Neville Shute for A Town Like Alice which has a leading lady I really admired.

I was swept away by Wilkie Collins’ sensational Armadale which features possibly the best femme fatale ever written, and was shocked by Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip which I finally got around to reading!

And finally for a bit of mystery and suspense, Sophie Hannah for her brilliant thrillers, A.A.Milne for a good old fashioned murder mystery and Tom Rob Smith for one of the most gripping books I’ve read this year.

What books and authors are you thankful for this year?

Booking Through Thursday – One Question

Booking Through Thursday

Q: If you could ask your favorite author (alive or dead) one question … who would you ask, and what would the question be?

Wilkie CollinsI would ask Wilkie Collins about the half sisters from The Woman in White:

If you had to choose, would you marry Laura Fairlie (beautiful but simple) or Marian Halcombe (resourceful, intelligent but “The Lady is Ugly!”)?

Wilkie Collins’ Armadale – Simply Sensational

ArmadaleArmadale first came to my attention through Savidge Reads’ Sensation Season. At 750- odd pages, it is a pretty chunky book, but after reading the synopsis I was raring to go;

When the elderly Allan Armadale makes a terrible confession on his death-bed, he has little idea of the repercussions to come, for the secret he reveals involves the mysterious Lydia Gwilt: flame-haired temptress, bigamist, laudanum addict and husband-poisoner. Her malicious intrigues fuel the plot of this gripping melodrama: a tale of confused identities, inherited curses, romantic rivalries, espionage, money – and murder. The character of Lydia Gwilt horrified contemporary critics, with one reviewer describing her as ‘One of the most hardened female villains whose devices and desires have ever blackened fiction’. She remains among the most enigmatic and fascinating women in nineteenth-century literature and the dark heart of this most sensational of Victorian ‘sensation novels’.

The novel centres around two distant cousins, both named Allan Armadale whose lives are tied together by the terrible secret which the elder Alan Armadale confesses on his death bed. Both Armadales meet again at the ages of 21 and 22 respectively and become friends (one of them under an assumed name). The curiosity of their shared names, the secret and a premonition leads them on a path that leads the reader to question whether they are simply hapless victims of fate. The books femme-fatale, Lydia Gwilt appears on the scene halfway through the book intent upon becoming the heiress to one of the Alan’s fortunes and turns everyone’s lives upside-down.

I don’t want to give much away about Armadale, except to say that I absolutely loved it. Collins uses letters and diaries throughout the novel to give the reader an intimate insight into the characters’ unique personalities. Lydia Gwilt is just the most fantastic villainess who I secretly wanted to be successful in her wicked plans. From a female point of view I find it funny because Collins often makes sweeping statements about womanly traits that are at first slightly offensive, but in reality he writes such strong and complex female characters who can surely only come from the mind of a writer who was forward thinking. I can’t get over how skilfully, Collins creates entertaining characters that are also very human. His writing is witty and absorbing in a way that makes you feel happy that the story is so long. I also love the fact that I couldn’t predict what would happen at the end.

If you’ve never read sensation fiction or thought that a book from this era would be dry and boring, I would urge you to pick up Armadale or another Wilkie Collins, and allow yourself to be swept away in a brilliant plot.

I just wanted to finish with a quick quote which made me giggle, where Lydia considers why jumping out of the window would be a bad idea:

“I must go to the window and get some air. Shall I jump out? No; it disfigures one so, and the coroner’s inquest lets so many people see it.”

Have you read any / many sensation novels? What do you like about this genre and if you haven’t read any what puts you off?

Paper vs Pixels – Advantages and drawbacks of reading on iPhone

Eucalpytus - Book CoverA couple of weeks ago I was buzzing with excitement because my new work phone (an iPhone!) arrived. I spent Friday night, not out with friends or watching TV, but surgically attached to my phone and thinking every five minutes about what new ‘Apps’ I could download. If you don’t know what an iPhone App is, in a nutshell it’s a ‘application’ which you can download to your phone which adds functionality (a bit like a program on your computer). Typical examples include functional apps, like to do lists, calendars, or expense charts, fun apps like games or novelty items like a Zippo lighter on your phone – some free, some cost a few pounds. The beauty of the apps on iPhone is that  there are lots of creative ideas floating about which use the functionality of the phone itself, like it’s ‘accelerometer’ (a sort of motion sensor), it’s microphone or it’s internal magnet.

I could go on, and on (yes it really is quite inspiring!) but I have to admit that the App that I really got excited about was the ‘Eucalyptus App‘ by the Gutenberg Project. You pay £5.99 (or $9.99) to download it but once you’ve bought it gives you access to all the books that have been made public online by the Gutenberg Project – that’s over 20,000 books for (almost) free! Of course it doesn’t mean you’re going to be getting the latest Dan Brown or Man Booker, but it does mean you can read Dickens, Tolstoy or in my case Wilkie Collins’ novels on your phone. So having had it a couple of weeks and been reading Armadale on it (for Savidge Reads Sensation Season), I wanted to give you my pros and cons Print vs Pixels!


1 – An excellent reading experience

Eucalpytus 2While I don’t think I’ll ever find reading on a phone as good as thumbing the pages of a lovely paperback, I was super impressed by the experience of reading on this app. I had already used my Nintendo DS which had a similar program whilst travelling (also to read Wilkie!) so I wasn’t totally new to using a reader, but let me tell you why it’s so good.

  • Once you’ve downloaded them, books are displayed with covers very similar to the recent new penguin classics range (see first photo), so you don’t miss out on having a smart cover.
  • The fonts chosen are the same as what you would get in a book, so it renders like a real page, except you can ‘pinch’ them to expand or zoom out and make the text bigger without losing the page layout.
  • It feels very tactile because you turn the pages using the touchscreen, by swiping your finger across, a little like you would when leafing through the pages of a book.

2 – It’s so portable!

Don’t get me wrong, I love big chunky books on my shelves and in front of the fire with a cup of tea / glass of wine, but I do not love them in my handbag and on the tube! This App means that I am currently carrying Ulysses and Armadale around in my handbag with no extra shoulder-strain. It’s not dependent on internet access either so I can read it underground.

3 – No dog-eared pages

I’m terrible at remembering my bookmark, so often dog-ear my pages (boo-hiss!). The app remembers I am in the book so I don’t have to!

4 – Note-making is easy

Ok, so this isn’t actually a virtue of the App itself, but I have found myself jotting things down in the ‘notes’ bit of my phone as I go along, because of course I’m using the handset for both. I am too forgetful / lazy to remember to carry a pen and notepad so this works well for me. Plus I can then synch it with Outlook and have  already typed-up notes for blogging from. Yes I know I’m a geek!

5 – It’s going to save me money on classic books

I was going to spend about £6 at least on Armadale in print, so simply by buying the app I’ve saved, and now have access to thousands of others. Of course classic books are nice to have anyway, but if I end up loving them I can buy them retrospectively from a second-hand shop.


1 – You can’t read it in the bath!

Technically that’s not true, I could read it in the bath but soapy wet hands and electronics don’t go well together. For me that’s quite a drawback as I love lounging in a long hot bath and reading until it’s not so hot! Also, I haven’t tried it on the beach yet but the Nintendo DS wasn’t good at all for reading in the sunlight because you couldn’t see the screen.

2 – It won’t fill a bookshelf

This isn’t a big deal for me because I will probably end up buying copies of the books I love, but electronic copies of books will never have quite the same tactile and sensory appeal (fusty smells, crinkly pages, interesting covers) as your favourite hardback or paperback copy.

3 – Too many distractions

While I can pick this up more easily when I’m on the go, as I always have it with me it can be difficult to settle down to because the nature of the iPhone is that it allows you to, nay encourages you to multitask. With a good book, it’s easier to take it somewhere quiet and not be distracted.

So overall? I genuinely love this App because of the care and attention that has gone into making it an enjoyable reading experience. The benefits don’t completely outweigh the negatives but they are very strong plus points. I’m not sure that I would buy new books for my phone unless I was going away for a long time and couldn’t pack hard copies, although having said that I did take about 10 books travelling with me and traded as I went! I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t ever buy a device dedicated only to reading books as I wouldn’t want to carry something seperately unless it was actually a book.

I think that what it means is that I will choose to read in different formats in different situations. For example I’ve downloaded Ulysses for when I’m travelling, but I have a paper copy that I’ll read at home…in the bath!

Have you used a digital device for reading yet? Do you think you could be converted? Will paper-format books always be around?

Teaser Tuesdays – Armadale, Wilkie Collins


“‘Angry?’ he repeated, in his lowest, gentlest tones. ‘Angry with you? – Oh, my poor boy, were you to blame for being kind to me when I was ill in the old west-country inn? And was I to blame for feeling your kindess thankfully? Was it our fault that we never doubted each other, and never knew that we were traveling together blindfold on the way that was to lead us here? The cruel time is coming, Allan, when we shall rue the day we ever met. Shake hands, brother, on the edge of the precipice – shake hands while we are brothers still!’

page 540*, Armadale, Wilkie Collins. Read Review.

*On Eucalyptus Reader App for iPhone


Booking Through Thursday – Recent Funny

Q: What’s the funniest book you’ve read recently?

A: I haven’t read any laugh out loud books recently although The Believers by Zoe Heller was quite witty and I remember Kate Atkinson’s One Good Turn having amusing characters – a sort of comic mystery story. One of the few books that has made me laugh out loud was How to be Good by Nick Hornby – I read it while on a visit to New York and giggled so much at one bit that the lady on the train asked me what I was reading!

Oh and actually I just remembered that The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins really did make me laugh because of the hilariously over the top characters and the way that on of the leading characters, Marian Halcombe makes sweeping statements about how useless women are despite her being quite fabulous.

Want to visit Booking Through Thursday? Take a look here.

Back from a Blogging Hiatus!

Memories of travelling: Sunrise at Changi Beach, Koh Samui April 2009, courtesy of the photographer boyfriend.

Over the last few months I’ve had a bit of a blogging hiatus, due to travelling, job applications and whatnot. Composing cover letters drains all the fun out of writing! But while I might have given the keypad a break I’ve been enjoying catching up on some great books.
There’s nothing like long plane, and bus journeys to give you some good reading time, in fact the only downside was fitting the books into my rucksack and making sure I didn’t have to pay excess! I even sacrificed a pair of shoes to make space for Margaret Atwood’s hefty novel The Blind Assassin. Below is my travel reading list (from which you’ll notice that I managed to get through quite a few on my ‘catch up list’).

  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood – A big old pullitzer prize winner full of original ideas as the perfect escapism from cramped hostels in Tokyo.
  • The Parasites, Daphne Dumaurier – A dark little novel exploring the relationship between and the personalities of a group of self-centred siblings enjoyed in the sunshine in Bangkok.
  • No Time For Goodbye, Linwood Barclay – Unputdownable thriller / mystery about a girl who discovers her family have gone missing one morning. Beach reading for Koh Samui.
  • One Good Turn: A Jolly Murder Mystery, Kate Atkinson – Entertaining read about a curious collision of lives pilfered from a hotel bookshelf (I did leave the Parasites in return!) in Koh Samui.
  • Mudbound, Hillary Jordan – A moving story about the struggles of rural living and racial tension in the Mississippi Delta after the second world war, consumed mostly in a hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City.
  • A Case of Need, Michael Crichton – A fantastically battered copy of a 70’s novel about an abortion doctor and a heated legal case read in a very hot, fanless guesthouse in Siem Reap Cambodia.
  • Sovereign, C.J. Sansom – A monkish mystery set in Tudor times that now I think of it has lots of parallels with The Name of the Rose. Fitted in between lots of partying in Sydney!
  • In Cold Blood : A True Account of a Multiple Murder and Its Consequences, Truman Capote – An incredibly detailed journalists account of a gruesome murder of an all-american family that occured in Kansas in 1959. An instant favourite during my stay in Auckland
  • Just After Sunset, Stephen King – Awful and at times just plain wierd book of short stories, by a usually excellent horror writer.
  • The Body Farm, Patricia Cornwell – My first foray into the Kay Scarpetta novels was entertaining but I still prefer Tess Gerritson and Sophie Hannah
  • The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins – Such an enjoyable classic, I loved the over the top characters and the thick plot while staying on Rarotonga in the Cook Islands
  • The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco – A bit of a struggle to get through the theological philosophising to the actually very good plot while driving around sunny California!
  • The Testament, John Grisham – A multi-billionaire commits suicide and leaves the expected heirs nothing while pledging everything to a daughter who lives a life of a reclusive missionary! A recipe for trouble thoroughly enjoyed on a 2 night stint in an LA hostel.

The stand out novel by far for me was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood which, on putting down thought ‘I think this might be the best book I have ever read!’. I found the depth to which Capote investigates the characters and the skill by which he conveys them to be truly extraordinary. It’s a book that really got under my skin and it is definitely my ‘new favourite’. Really I should have been organised and planned books for different countries (although I did read In Cold Blood in advance of visiting the States!) but I enjoyed picking up novels I might not normally have read in hostels and second hand bookshops along the way. For instance, I have never particularly wanted to read a Michael Crichton novel or a John Grisham having had some idea that they are the kind of books read by middle aged business-men, but actually really, really enjoyed them to my great surprise and found the writing style to be superb. It just goes to show how important it is to stay open minded about what does and doesn’t make a well written book.