The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Moonstone

My rating: 3/5 stars
Goodreads
Read-along post #1

For someone who does a lot of read-alongs, sometimes I feel like I’m not very good at them. On the appointed day for our midway posts, I decided to post nothing and finish the book instead. I also feel like a bit of an outsider, as everyone else is positively swooning over The Moonstone, while I was left a little cold.

For a detective/mystery story, I didn’t feel much suspense at all for 90% of the book. It was only at the very end, when reading the factual, precise account of what happened to the moonstone, that I felt any real urgency to keep reading. Oh, I was curious about what happened to the moonstone. Sure. Who wouldn’t be? But the book utterly failed to make it matter beyond the whodunit aspect and that just wasn’t enough for me.

I think the ambivalence was intended, because the heroine and owner of the jewel is just awful, not to mention it comes to be in her family’s possession through murder. And colonialism. Her uncle is basically looting in India and kills a few Indians in the process. I don’t know what the general feelings on colonialism were in 1850, but the set up is so egregious I can’t help but think Wilkie (yes, we’re on a first name basis) wanted us to root for the Indians. India was still nearly 100 years from independence (wow) but really, it’s their damn diamond, maybe, I don’t know, give it back rather than be cursed and ruin everyone’s lives. JUST A THOUGHT.

What I don’t think was intended was the failure (to me) of the romance between Rachel and her first cousin Franklin. I struggle with the cousin thing. I know, different time, different culture and so forth. Maybe it’s because I share a family resemblance with a lot of my cousins so I just imagine these two making out and looking the same and it’s very Flowers in the Attic. Maybe it’s because Rachel has two romantic interests and they’re BOTH first cousins and I just think she needs to get out more. But I really didn’t care if Rachel and Franklin ended up together or not.

All that said, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it on the strength of the narrative structure alone. I’m a sucker for an epistolary novel, and Wilkie does it so well. We begin the novel with sweet, self-deprecating, sexist Betteredge, the Verinder family butler, hopelessly devoted to his Lady, his pipe, and Robinson Crusoe. You’d be hard pressed to find a more endearing narrator (in spite of the rampant sexism) or a funnier one. Pretty sure I snorted when I read this:

On hearing those dreadful words, my daughter Penelope said she didn’t know what prevented her heart from flying straight out of her. I thoughts privately that it might have been her stays.

Betteredge repeatedly addresses himself directly to the reader, here admonishing us to pay attention. Guilty as charged, I was totally thinking about my new bonnet while I was reading this…

Clear your mind of the children, or the dinner, or the new bonnet, or what not. Try if you can’t forget politics, horses, prices in the City, and grievances at the club… Lord! haven’t I seen you with the greatest authors in your hands, and don’t I know how ready your attention is to wander when it’s a book that asks for it, instead of a person?

The next narrator is one Miss Drusilla Clack and she was my favourite part of the whole book. I wish she’d narrated the whole thing. I wish the book was about her. She’s so delightfully hypocritical and a loves to play the martyr. She has a way with words; remarking on France’s “popery” and her aunt’s “autumnal exuberance of figure.” And then there are her tracts. Modern readers might be familiar with Chick Tracts (I was personally handed one at a Marilyn Manson concert in 1997 which is definitely in the top ten of “most 90s things that ever happened to me”) but Miss Clack’s tracts sound much more entertaining:

Here was a golden opportunity! I seized it on the spot. In other words, I instantly opened my bag, and took out the top publication. It proved to be an early edition of the famous anonymous work entitled THE SERPENT AT HOME. The design of the book is to show how the Evil One lies in wait for us in all the most apparently innocent actions of our daily lives. The chapters best adapted to female perusal are “Satan in the Hair Brush;” “Satan behind the Looking Glass;” “Satan under the Tea Table;” “Satan out of the Window” — and many others.

Seems like Clack needs to reread a few of those tracts herself. #Humblebrag alert:

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.

I made a ton of annotations in Betteredge’s and Clack’s sections, and nearly none in the ensuing ones, narrated by the family’s lawyer, that dreamy first cousin Franklin, and a Mr. Jennings who I can’t really explain without spoilers. The rest of the book was interesting and well written and the ending was satisfying, but I just missed the first two narrators so much, I couldn’t get into it.

The Read-Along
Despite not loving the book, I had a lot of fun with this read-along! The #readWilkie hashtag was active, the bloggers were committed, and there is something very endearing about a group of girls so earnestly in love with a 19th century author (no judgement, I’m currently crushing on Anton Chekhov.) I heartily encourage you to visit the other #readWilkie bloggers, who may do a better job of convincing you to read The Moonstone. 

There are a few more, but these are the bloggers who posted a mid-way post.. you know… who followed the rules.

THANK YOU to Ellie for hosting, and I eagerly await the flood of reviews at the end of the month!

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19 comments

  1. Riv @ Bookish Realm

    Oh, you’re fast. I’m still reading Blake’s narrative. I had totally the same experience – in the first two narratives I had tons of those sticky papers in there but the next narratives just don’t have the same kind of hilariousity value.

  2. Nish

    I read The Moonstone long long ago in my teens and I remember liking this book. I was probably much easier to please I suppose at that time.

    Funnily, I read this one and Woman in White, and I remember even the tiniest details in that book. About Moonstone, all I have is a very hazy idea.

    I guess that shows which was the better book for me :).

  3. ebookclassics

    I’m not really feeling The Moonstone and have put it aside for now. I’ll probably make an end of the month push to finish it for the read-a-long. I don’t like Rachel or care who she ends up marrying.

  4. Juliana @ Epilogues

    I sort of skimmed over this in case there were any spoilers — I still have about fifty pages left — but I think we share a lot of the same feelings! I’m starting to feel the suspense building now at the end, but there really hasn’t been enough to keep me going throughout. Hopefully the end redeems it for me!

    (P.S. I did not even realize that there were rules to this read-along and that they included writing a midway post. That was pure coincidence. I’m an idiot.)

  5. Heather

    I didn’t follow the rules, either. I finished the book a day or so after the mid-way point, and I didn’t blog at the mid-way point–I commented on Ellie’s post. Heh.

    I really liked The Moonstone. I actually gave it five stars. I’m not *swooning* over it, really, but I thought it was excellent. I liked that it was a mystery novel without the suspense that we’re used to in today’s mystery/suspense novels. It was a classic whodunit. I LOVE Betteredge. Love.

    Out of curiosity, when did you figure out who stole the diamond?

    • lauratfrey

      I don’t think I did 100% figure it out till the end. I figured there was SOMETHING up with you-know-who (don’t want to spoil anyone, ha!) but I didn’t know what, and thought it might be a false lead. I was hoping it was Franklin to tell you the truth!

  6. phinnea

    I wanted Franklin and Rachel to get together because they so thoroughly deserved one another. Really the least likable characters in the whole thing. And I agree that Collins was basically siding with the Indians, though against their methods, he seemed to view them as having justice on their side.

    • lauratfrey

      I know, what a couple of entitled douche bags 🙂

      I’d be curious to know more about attitudes towards colonialism in the author’s time. It seems like the 1800s were the height of it, but maybe things were already starting to crumble. I’m not too strong on my history!

  7. Charlotte @ Lit Addicted Brit

    In some ways, I agree with you. I mean, I loved The Moonstone but as a detective story, it was a bit lacking. Wilkie seemed more concerned with creating great characters than he did about talking about the theft of a diamond worth a fortune. If I hadn’t been enjoying the writing as much as I was, I probably would have been terribly frustrated.

    My favourite is Betteredge by a pretty good distance but I did enjoy the tract-bearing Clack too. I mean, I would hate actually having to come across her in real life but for literary purposes, she was perfect. Her snipey asides to Blake were gold.

    I finished a little bit before the midway posts went up and it was really hard not to just rampage around the internet shouting about how amazing the ending was. To be fair, I did actually do that a little bit but STILL, it could have been worse.

  8. Pingback: The Moonstone – Book Review | ebookclassics
  9. Ellie

    It’s really interesting to read your thoughts on this and compare our different reading experiences. I think I just have a soft spot for Wilkie and he can do no wrong in my eyes.

    I’m glad you enjoyed it even if there were a few off bits. To be fair, I’m so pleased that marrying your first cousin is no longer ok. There is something terribly odd about it and I do find it weird to read. That and the colonialism. I do always appreciate such things in books though because often I think it provides a truer history (in terms of cultural attitudes) than history books.

    It seems to be a consensus that the second half wasn’t as entertaining as the first. Without Betteredge and Clack it all seems a bit empty but I was a big fan of Ezra.

    Thank you so much for joining in! Maybe I can persuade you to read Wilkie again if I do another readalong next year.

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