Monday, 23 January 2012

Book Review: The Moonstone

The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins - 1868 (Kindle 2006 version reviewed) - 664 pages

Image source: Amazon UK
I'm determined to review every book I finish in 2012, so that I can see how many books I get through in that time, as well as to share my thoughts on them. At the end of last year I bought a lot of classics on my kindle (they are free after all) and the first one I started reading was The Moonstone. Well, two and a bit months since starting I finally finished it and, despite how long it took to get through, I have to say it was thoroughly enjoyable.

Often described as the original predecessor to the detective novel, The Moonstone is a whodunnit about a lost jewel, told in entries written by various people affected by its loss. Rachel Verinder inherits the 'moonstone' from her uncle, a precious diamond from India, but within 24 hours of receiving it, the gem has been stolen from her room. The rest of the story follows the investigation, and the subsequent discoveries that may shed light on what happened to it. If I'm honest that description doesn't really do this book justice; the use of Indian legend, first person narrative and clever red herrings make this a story much larger than it's parts.

The characterisation in The Moonstone is second to none, with each narrator distinct in voice and character. Whether it's the house steward Gabriel Betteridge, the pious and self righteous Miss Clack or the mysterious Ezra Jennings, each have their own prejudices and perspectives, which inevitably effect their submissions to the Moonstone story. This should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to write in first person, as Collins brilliantly uses the way the people write to reveal their personalities; the ultimate in show don't tell.

The story itself is excellent, and will lead you down a dark path or two before finally revealing the answer. But at no time do you feel you're being led on a merry chase, and it is entirely possible to work out the solution yourself, though you'll need to put your detective cap on.

My only warning if you choose to read The Moonstone is the language can feel a bit archaic at times, an unavoidable consequence of the time it was written. Personally I liked the nineteenth century language, though it certainly contributed to the time it took to finish the book, which at 644 pages, is going to take a while to get through as it is. A strong story, compelling characters and twists that make you think should keep you going to the end though.

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