Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

I know you can’t see me but I’m doing my smug face right now.


Because I have read 3 whole Classics and it’s not even the end of March yet. That makes me officially ahead of time, which I love. (Come back and talk to me when I’m falling behind and see how freaked out I am.)

The Moonstone has got to be my favourite so far. I couldn’t even tell you why it was on my bookshelf, clearly I was going mad in Waterstones and picked it up as part of the 3 for 2 offer, most likely as a way to assuage my guilt that I didn’t read enough heavyweight stuff.

To be fair, The Moonstone is not heavyweight. But it is a bloody classic (surely there can be no disagreements about this one?!) so I was happy to include it.

First things first. Anyone else think that Wilkie Collins was a woman? No? Am I really the only one who heard the name and thought “Female”? I have no idea why I thought she was, I’m guessing it’s from hearing Wilkie Collins, closely followed by Woman in White and the two have possibly become jumbled up in my tiny little head. Anyway. This is irrelevant and nothing to do with the book.

So apparently The Moonstone is regarded as one of the first detective novels ever written. My my my, get me and my fancy reading. It was published in serial format which I think has led to it being quite a tome of a book, it really is hefty (although it didn’t really feel like it when I was reading it.).

The Moonstone is a big fuck-off diamond that has been passed to Rachel Verinder on her birthday by another member of the family. On the night after her party the diamond is discovered to have disappeared and the finger of suspicion points at many people – is it the Indians who have been following the diamond around the country in an attempt to return it to its rightful birthplace? Is it Rachel herself who’s hidden it away because her mother doesn’t want her to have it? Is it the poor little servant girl who’s all hunch-backed and stuff?

I spy with my little eye, something beginning with MYSTERY.

The book is told from several viewpoints, starting with that of Gabriel Betteredge, servant to the Verinders. I think the brilliance of this book lies in Collins’ characterisation – you cannot help but warm to characters like Betteredge and Drusilla Clack, who appears later in the book, and parts of their commentary will have you at the very least smiling to yourself, if not embarrassingly snorting in public. Take this gem from Mr Betteredge:

"Selina, being a single woman, made me pay so much a week for her board and services. Selina, being my wife, couldn't charge for her board, and would have to give me her services for nothing...Economy - with a dash of love."

Slowly the mystery of who took the diamond is revealed through the narratives of Sergeant Cuff (apparently based on the real life Inspector Whicher), Betteredge, Miss Clack, a cousin of Rachel Verinder, Franklin Blake, the man in love with Rachel Verinder, Mr Bruff, the Verinders’ solicitor, and Ezra Jennings, the man who is instrumental in discovering whodunit and why.

It’s hard for me to tell you about it without accidentally revealing the plot but as you’re reading it it all seems very familiar and very “classic mystery” – one big house, something goes missing but all the doors are locked and no-one’s heard anything, several suspects. But you have to keep reminding yourself that Collins isn’t following the formula for a mystery, he was creating it. This is the beginning for all those other mystery novels you’ve read. (Don’t think about it too hard though because it actually gets a bit mind boggling after a while.)

You would think that it would be disappointing to be reading the very first detective novel nowadays and it is true that there are an awful lot of coincidences that happen to make the plotline run along but there are times when you have to take your cynical hat off and put it one side. This was written in 1868, give the man a break.

But if I’m honest, for all it would be easy to be superior about the plot of The Moonstone I have to hold my hands up and say I didn’t really know who had taken it beforehand, or how they had. Well maybe that’s not strictly true but I didn’t figure it all out – I had an idea and I think you will too when you read it but I think you’ll be surprised at the twist the novel takes before leaving you feeling smug about having guessed.

I absolutely loved this book, would most certainly recommend it and think you’d be hard pushed not to get caught up in the mystery of it all, it’s immensely readable.

I would also most definitely like to read The Woman in White now. Just so you know. Would it be cheating to have 2 books by the same author on the list of 12 classics? (Must remember to make myself a set of strict rules next time I attempt something like this.)


Next classic on the list: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.


  1. Oh I'm such a philistine, I haven't heard of this book or the author (although I thought it sounded a female name so you're not alone there) :S I'm glad that you've enjoyed two of the three classics so far, might encourage me to read some!

    I started Dorian Gray but it was immediately after studying ...Earnest at A-level and all I could see were Wilde's literary devices and undertones and it put me off - might try again now that I'm old enough to have forgotten all my education!

    Oh and why oh why did my parents not christen me Drusilla Clack?!

  2. You'll also love The Woman in White - Flippin Eck, does that mean I've read a Classic! :0)
    I read Dorian Gray yonks a go - can't remember if I loved it or not. Though I'm a MASSIVE fan of Oscar Wilde - "A handbag"!!!! The Importance of Being Ernest has to be my absolute fave, followed by Lady Windermere's fan.

  3. Hi! I think I've read it. Or at least started it... and I started the Woman in White too... possibly at the annoying-precocious-teen stage when I didn't really have the stamina. Glad you enjoyed it!

  4. A big fuck-off diamond, loved that!!
    Eurgh of course you can!! As long as it's a classic, it doesn't matter who wrote it
    And the picture of Dorian Gray, mega flashback! I remember reading that at school...

  5. Read whatever you want! Seems much better to read two classics by an author you like than two different ones that you hate. We don't want another Midnight's Children incident...

  6. I haven't heard of this one but sounds fun! Will investigate...

    Be interesting to see what you make of Dorian

  7. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it. I knew you would. You definitely have to read The Woman In White. I loved it and couldn't put it down. x


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