The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

Reading this book was a pretty huge task for a person who finds classic literature daunting. Plus, at over 600 pages, it’s on the chunkster side. But I haven’t been doing very well with reading gifted books and I received this one from Iris as part of the All Hallow’s Eve book swap, so I decided to dive right in.

First a bit of background – The Moonstone is the precursor of the modern mystery novel and is set in 19th century England. It also introduces the character of an English detective for (I believe) the first time. The story deals with the theft of a precious Indian diamond and is narrated by various characters. Although the number of suspects is limited, the story is never boring. There is so much more to it than simply finding out ‘who did it’.

The first part of the book is narrated by Gabriel Betteridge, the house steward. For me this was the best possible start to the story, as Betteridge was my favourite character. How could I not love a man who seeks guidance in the pages of a battered copy of Robinson Crusoe? He also comes out with some hilarious observations, especially about women. Like this one:

“You make my flesh creep. Nota bene: women like these little compliments.” (p. 28)

Or

“When you want to comfort a woman by he shortest way, take her on your knee.” (p. 36)

Despite these views, he really is a loveable character with a great voice. And he truly cares for his mistress, Rachel, who is the one the diamond is stolen from. He never believes anything bad about her and always remains on her side.

I loved Rachel too and found her as witty as a Jane Austen character. She says of her upcoming marriage:

“I am marrying in despair, Mr Bruff – on the chance of dropping into some sort of stagnant happiness which may reconcile me to my life.” (p. 349)

I don’t know what it is about this statement, but it makes Rachel incredibly believable, rather than a two-dimensional outdated character. I can understand her. It’s writing like this that makes a novel a classic.

I also loved the common sense statements, like this one:

“Persons and things do turn up so vexaciously in this life, and will in a manner insist in being noticed.” (p. 32)

Persons and things do that now too!

So much in this story is funny. Not in itself, really, just in the way in which it is phrased. Like this:

It is not every day that we can meet an eminent person at dinner and feel that there is a reasonable prospect of the news of his murder being the news that we hear of him next.” (p. 362)

Honestly, this entire story was a joy to read, with a good story and witty use of language. I don’t know why Wilkie Collins isn’t more well-known, at least as famous as his friend Charles Dickens. In fact, their friendship makes me want to know more about Dickens. Well, that and also the fact that Joss Whedon likes him!