Daniel's Reviews > The Moonstone

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
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Jan 03, 2009

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bookshelves: 2009
Read in February, 2009

I was torn between giving two stars and three stars to Wilkie Collins's "The Moonstone," a book T. S. Eliot called "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels." "Longest" is perhaps the operative word here, reminding one of Samuel Johnson's comment (speaking, in his case, of Milton's "Paradise Lost") that none ever wished it longer. "The Moonstone"'s length, in the end, is its chief and perhaps only major failing. Large chunks of the novel seem to drag on and on with few advancements being made to the plot in the process. The latter parts of the section narrated by Gabriel Betteredge, chief servant to the Verinder household, and almost all of Drusilla Clack's section really could have used some judicious editing.

I suspect, though, that long after I forget what a slog much of "The Moonstone" was to get through, I'll remember its many charms. Betteredge is a particularly fun narrator, given his obsession with Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" -- a book he treats as a cross between the Holy Bible and Nostradamus's "Prophecies" -- and his jaundiced eye toward male-female relations. Collins also must have had a ball making Drusilla Clack one of the most judgmental, grating Christian evangelists in English literature. Particularly priceless are the passages in which she wanders around the Verinder household and strategically places religious tracts in spots where family members, she hopes, would just happen upon them, instantly putting her relatives on the path to salvation.

Betteredge and Clack are so compelling that almost every other character in "The Moonstone," with the possible exception of opium addict Ezra Jennings, pales in comparison. Rachel Verinder -- despite being at the book's center as the recipient of the Indian diamond known as the Moonstone, the theft of which the plot revolves around -- isn't as fully drawn as the other characters, perhaps because she never takes over narration of the story. This, in a way, actually demonstrates one of Collins's chief skills as a writer: as each narrator takes his or her turn telling the story, that section of the book really becomes more about him or her than about the plot.

And that, ultimately, is what makes "The Moonstone" an interesting book. Despite being such an early and influential mystery novel -- it predated Arthur Conan Doyle's introduction of Sherlock Holmes by almost two decades -- it's really more about the characters themselves, their view of the world, and the decisions they make than it is about solving the mystery of the diamond's disappearance. It's a shame that more of today's mystery novelists haven't learned that lesson from "The Moonstone."

In retrospect, I realize I'm perhaps making "The Moonstone" sound like more of a four-star book, but trust me: the long, drawn-out sections of the book really are incredibly long and drawn out. I cannot overstate just how much this book tests the reader's patience, and for scores of pages at a time.
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02/20/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-12 of 12) (12 new)

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message 1: by Kelly (new)

Kelly This was a quite thorough review that told me exactly what I would be getting into, and whether it was worth it or not, and therefore quite useful! Excellently well done. :)


Daniel Thanks, Kelly! I appreciate it.


Jennifer Hey - I'm reading this now. Though it's taking me awhile to get into it.


Daniel I'll be interested to know what you think, Jennifer. Despite some of my comments, I am glad I read it. Much of it was quite entertaining.


Jennifer OK, I just read your review after finishing this and posting my review. I agree with you on the stars, but not entirely on the book. It certainly dragged and you make some good points, but I really didn't care about the characters. maybe my patience was just tested too much?


Daniel And loooong, Katherine, no? Thanks for the comment!


Alan I am currently reading the novel and enjoying it immensely. You make many pertinent points but in a sense your criticisms seem to underscore what makes the book so good and those are its characterizations. The mystery may be what drives the plot but the characters and their individual foibles and shortcomings are what give the novel its richness and depth. Good job however and good reading


Anthony I'm glad to see that I wasn't the only one who felt the same way about the Drusilla Clack section. Excellent review! Bravo!


Anthony I'm glad to see that I wasn't the only one who felt the same way about the Drusilla Clack section. Excellent review! Bravo!


Debbie Orndorff Reading it on audio so perhaps making the lengthy passages easier !! I am enjoying it immensely and thinking it would be great as Masterpiece Mystery series!


Debbie Orndorff Reading it on audio so perhaps making the lengthy passages easier !! I am enjoying it immensely and thinking it would be great as Masterpiece Mystery series!


message 12: by Demi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Demi Liked your review, with the exception of Clack's section. Wish it was taken out completely. I didn't care for her judgmental imposing character.


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