Even starting out, I didn't really think that I'd like this book that much. And I didn't.
There were so many things in it that could have made it a reaEven starting out, I didn't really think that I'd like this book that much. And I didn't.
There were so many things in it that could have made it a really great novel. A young boy, a cast of interesting characters, a mystery - books, love (parallel love stories no less!), a beautiful city - danger, suspense, tension, hope, friendship. And then the whole just fell flat.
For one thing, there were about twelve plots going on at the same time, and a positively enormous cast of characters. Since I didn't really like any of them (including the two main leads, Daniel and Julian Carax - neither were, in my opinion, that interesting), I didn't bother to unravel every single thing that was happening, since about twelve things always seemed to be happening at once.
And then my other serious problem: there was a lot of sex. And a lot of cursing. And a lot of vulgarity. Most of which was completely unnecessary. It took away the mystery of the story and made it into a farce, and a rude farce at that - leaving aside the bad language, which trivialized the story still further. The sex was just obnoxious. And there was a lot of it. The nineteen-or-so narrator fantasized about every woman that crossed his path - and there are only six major female characters, period (Penelope, Beatriz, Jacinta, Nuria Monfort, Bernarda, and Clara), who are really there to help the story along and who are pretty dull, except Nuria, who's too odd to like.
So: boring and/or evil and/or plot-device characters, excess vulgarity/sex, and confusion? That's why this book was less than overwhelming.
After Edgar Allan Poe, this book really invented the detective story. It has everything: an eccentric detective, a stolen jewel, a love triangle, a beAfter Edgar Allan Poe, this book really invented the detective story. It has everything: an eccentric detective, a stolen jewel, a love triangle, a beautiful woman, a chase through the streets, and an ending which sent a jolt through my spine like I'd been hit on the head with a poker.
After that there's not much to say. The humor, especially in Betteredge's part of the narrative, never fails to make me smile, and I love reading from several different perspectives, especially Miss Clack's, which is a masterpiece of farcical satire. I love Miss Clack herself, too, despite her incorrigible annoyingness. Really it's more of a love-to-hate relationship.
Someone gave me a copy of this book three or four years ago, and I was sure it would be more like "Middlemarch" (a book I wholeheartedly detest) than an antiquated Agatha Christie. But I started reading it anyway, and within five pages I was hooked. This is one of the few books which really hooked me, right off the bat. Even Jane Austen, the first time I read any of her novels, did not hook me.
Of the two twists at the end, both surprised me. This is what comes of suspending your disbelief so high you can't see it anymore - you don't see things coming. Thank goodness for Wilkie Collins: without him, our modern detective story would never have come to be....more
I have picked up this book at least three times intending to read it straight through. I have never succeeded.
These pickings-up (and prompt puttings-dI have picked up this book at least three times intending to read it straight through. I have never succeeded.
These pickings-up (and prompt puttings-down) have all taken place in about three years. I read "The Moonstone" in middle school, and I loved it - romance, excitement, antique, cozy writing. It was the kind of book that made me want to curl up in an armchair with a cup of tea and fall into it. (The book, not the cup of tea.) I dashed through it in about two days and seized on the next Collins book I could lay my hands on - "The Woman in White." I expected it to be another page-turning, romantic, suspenseful thrill of a novel.
Take "page-turning" and substitute "deadly dull." "Stupid cliches" can stand in for "romantic." And "suspenseful thrill," move over for "tedious yawn."
Now, I finished "The House of Mirth" despite grievous dislike of it. I finished "Wicked" despite being furious with it, its characters, and its author the entire book through. I even finished "Middlemarch," which I absolutely detested, and of which I had to force myself to read to the end. But I could not finish "The Woman in White." I've tried three times.
The first thing (well, several things) that bothered me were the characters. Halfway through the novel, which is as far as I've ever gotten, we've met most of the cast and yet there is only one I like much: Pesca. He is quirky, hilarious, and fun to read about. Unfortunately, he gets about two pages of time, and then he disappears for the rest of the novel. (Probably. Since I've never read the end, I do not actually know whether he reappears, and I don't like him enough to want to keep going just to see him again.)
Every other character drives me completely up the wall. Walter Hartwright is much like any other man on the street - with the exception of any sign of personality. He's the dullest, most uninteresting character I've ever come across. He and Cathy Linton tie for "Most Hated in Fiction." But then there's Laura Fairlie, a fainting, blushing, weeping sweetheart whose most decisive action is getting out of bed in the morning, because for the rest of the day she just sits. Oh, she draws, taps a bit on the spinet, steps into the garden for a few moments, but besides the energy it takes to move from the table to the spinet to the garden, she sits. Even in the garden she sits on any conveniently located bench, so that Marian can stare at her utterly mindless beauty. I have not taken to Laura Fairlie, and I don't know why Walter does. I don't know what Laura sees in Walter, either. They're both completely and totally uninteresting; maybe that's why they "fall in love."
The dull ones are out of the way. Now we come to Marian Halcombe. I've heard her described as a woman with 21st century values, attitude, and mindset, but I fail to see any of this in her. She's described as "mannish": she is shaped like a man, has hands like a man's, and has a moustache. She doesn't seem to have any very remarkable characteristics besides these physical ones; she doesn't get much of her own way and doesn't push for it. Most of her energy is filtered into keeping her lovely Laura from exerting her brain too much (because Laura's mental capacities are exceeded by those of a four-year-old).
Then Fosco. Typical evil Italian villain. Personally, I've never met an Italian I didn't like. I don't know how they acquired this dastardly reputation. Fosco isn't a very convincing villain because he doesn't seem to have any real part in what's going on: Sir Percival, the man Laura ends up marrying against her will because of some stupid promise to a man who is now DEAD and won't care by now who she marries, is the one who gets the money caused by faking his wife's death. (By the way, how is it possible that there are two women so ABSOLUTELY IDENTICAL that ABSOLUTELY NO ONE noticed there had been an identity switch? I mean, I can suspend my disbelief to a point, but not this far.)
Add up all these unlikable characters and add a stretch in the middle of the book where nothing at all happens for numerous pages, and when you think something AT LAST is going to happen nothing does, and what you have is a disaster area.
And so I have never once, in all three or four times I've tried to read this book, succeeded....more
I dithered for a long time over what rating to give this book. On the one hand, I did finish it. On the other, it was jerky, tediously written, peopleI dithered for a long time over what rating to give this book. On the one hand, I did finish it. On the other, it was jerky, tediously written, peopled with very dull characters, too long, practically plotless, and a blatant copy of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.
So...I went with one star. (For the record, that means I didn't like it.)
We meet "Eve" (not her real name, as she says), she meets Dom, and they move to Provence. There's very little falling in love. There's very much skipping over of this part of their relationship. That's bad enough. But then when they buy their house in Provence, they a) claim to be madly in love but don't seem to talk to each other much, and b) spend most of their time apart. Reading. In separate rooms. They have passed from romantic to platonic. Somehow, though, both "Eve" and Deborah think this is an ideal way to spend your time, and the pages keep turning. Bones are found underground during the course of a landscaping project. Dom and Eve get even less close. Bones are found to be from a long time ago, so clearly have nothing to do with present inhabitants of house. Dom and Eve make it up. Happily ever after.
This takes about 200 pages. The other two hundred are spent on Benedicte Lincel, who used to live in the house Eve and Dom have bought. Basically, she lived in the house, her sister was blind, her family fell apart, her siblings disappeared or died, she saw ghosts, she's told it's a visionary problem, she dies.
Eve gets chapter one, Benedicte gets chapter two. They alternate from there. Unfortunately, every chapter is about two pages long, so by the time I'm getting used to who's narrating and what time period it is, it's already the next chapter, and there's a different narrator and it's fifty years earlier or later. This drove me crazy. Neither E. nor B. really appealed to me; their chapters are written in exactly the same way, despite the fact that B. is speaking into a recorder and E. is writing things down. This irritated me from the first. Their narratives are not differentiated from one another in any way: they're both in first-person past tense, in the same writing style, and there's no sign at the beginning of the chapters to let the reader know who's talking. If the chapter begins with a monologue, which most do, it can take three or four paragraphs to figure out whose chapter this is. In a chapter of two pages, this is a significant chunk.
But that's not why I didn't like this. The writing is pretty good, but every five sentences we're treated to yet another description of Provence, and after twenty pages I got it. I didn't need more description. I remembered what I'd read two minutes before. But there is more description, and more, and more, till the story (what little of it there is) is so bogged down it's like swimming through honey.
And a hundred pages in, there is a scene of such animal cruelty that I threw up. I have never before had such a violent reaction to a book. A few times I've cried over a novel, laughed, certainly, but never once was seized with nausea and had to rush for the nearest bathroom. In case you're wondering, this is a NEGATIVE reaction. Very negative. The scene was gory, disgusting, repulsive, and gratuitous. It did not need to be there. If that one scene had been left out, this novel might have garnered another star. As it is, it barely deserves the one.
So we have confusing narration, insipid characters, and repellent animal cruelty. What more do we need to make an emphatically one-star book? Well, throw in some typical twenty-first-century arrogance and you've got a whole stew. On page 66 of my copy, there's this: "By the end of the meeting we were...partners in a glorious endeavor that would enhance not only our personal surroundings but the landscape and history of the entire region." What do you think this glorious endeavor is? A garden? A statue? Nope.
A private swimming pool.
Enhance the landscape? Definitely not. Enhance the history? I don't know who they're kidding, but this is just garbage.
There's a sub-plot which makes no sense to the rest of the book: Dom's ex-wife, Rachel. As the reader sees coming from three hundred pages off, she's dead by Dom's hand; this unrevelatory revelation has nothing whatsoever to do with the overall limp plot. It's there to take up space. It is a ridiculous addition. It does not make sense. But somehow, Deborah Lawrenson's stupid editor left it in.
Speaking of stupid, if my name were "Dominic" and I wanted a nickname, I'd probably go by "Nic." But that's just me. I would definitely not go by "Dom," since this looks and sounds a lot like either "Dumb" or "Damn." Nice.
And now the worst thing about the entire novel. It's a complete fake of du Maurier's "Rebecca." It's like one of those counterfeit dollar bills that look like Monopoly money. "Rebecca" has:
-A whirlwind romance in an exotic location with an older man -A beautiful house -A dead wife with whom the present wife becomes nearly obsessed -A body found in an unexpected location -Lots of description (unlike in "The Lantern", though, the writing actually works for the novel) -A nameless narrator -A husband who has killed the old wife -Sequences about the present situation as opposed to the past
And "The Lantern" has not one, not two, not three or four, but ALL of these characteristics. Whirlwind romance, exotic location, older man? Check. Beautiful house? Double check. An ex-wife (murdered by husband) causing obsession in present wife? Check. Body/ies found? Check. Nameless narrator? Check. Pages of description? Check. Both books start with a few pages about what's happening at the moment and then return to the past.
Lawrenson can't be sued since she didn't directly plagiarize, and she has the addition of Benedicte Lincel's unconvincing drivel to protect her. So she can't actually be sued for plagiarism. Unfortunately.
Final words? What a load of garbage.
ADDENDUM: I've heard people say that they read this because they have read Rebecca. If you like Daphne DuMaurier - READ DAPHNE DUMAURIER!! This whole novel is completely rubbish....more