Author: Wilkie Collins
Rating: 3 stars
This book is part of my personal collection.
I must confess at the outset that I think I’ve been confusing The Moonstone with The Woman in White for years. They don’t seem to have much in common other than their author, but I went into The Moonstone completely expecting a spooky ghost story. Turns out it was a detective story! Brain, what are you doing?
Anyway. Once we step aside from the mistaken identity, it’s time to look at The Moonstone on its own merits. This is the ninth book I’ve read for this years TBR Pile challenge (which I am now incredibly behind on.) It’s the oldest, and the longest. It had plenty of high points, but ultimately was far too long and far too racist for me to recommend it highly.
I’ve wanted to read Collins for about ten years now. He’s one of those authors that I’ve seen referenced often, but not had any experience with. The Moonstone, referred to by many as the first detective novel, features many different narratives all relating to the theft of an Indian relic after it is presented to a young English girl for her birthday.
I was not expecting this to be satire, so that was a pleasant surprise. The sections written by the oblivious servant Betteredge–who continually turns to Robinson Crusoe as a prophet–and Miss. Clack–the tedious evangelist–often had me laughing out loud. They were just so sharp, even though they were written for a Victorian audience there was still a lot of humor to be found in them.
The other narratives were a bit more prosaic. And here is where the length started to drag me down. I’m not sure if The Moonstone was serialized or not–it certainly feels like it. No character says something in one line if he can take three pages to say it. There is an overabundance of filler and repetition in these pages. People do really simple things in really complicated ways, and then write twenty page letters about it. The solution to the mystery, also, was entirely ridiculous. I won’t get too far into it, but it involves opium, a number of misunderstandings about how science experiments actually work, and brownface.
Using brownface as plot twist…yeah. The idea that someone wouldn’t recognize their own relative because of a little dark skin paint and a fake beard…again…yeah. I don’t even know how to properly analyze that whole turn of the novel, because it was so absurd and offensive.
There are three “Hindoo” characters that pop in and out of this narrative menacingly (and silently–lots of white people presume to speak for them, but we never hear their own voices), leading to a lot of really racist claptrap. Perhaps that should be expected of 1868, but just because something is expected doesn’t mean it is excusable.The diamond is stolen by a white man and passed along through is rich family, and all these white people are so incensed that the people it was stolen from might want it back. I have to say, I was rooting for the Indians the whole time, even though they were written with about as much depth as a piece of onionskin paper. I would love to see The Moonstone deconstructed in a post-colonialist point of view.
There were things I enjoyed about The Moonstone, but there was a lot that was unsatisfying about it, too.
Now, to start chipping away at book number ten for this challenge…