bonnie’s #CBR5 Review #77: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

My friend S and I are both stressed-out doctoral students who wanted to do some “fun” reading over Christmas break that didn’t involve anything related to our respective research areas. We both enjoy Victorian novels, so we chose The Moonstone. I may or may not be questioning my love of Victorian novels after my experience with Jane Eyre and this novel.

So, in short: greedy colonialist soldier steals sacred (and ginormous) Indian diamond, known as the Moonstone, and wills it to his heirs. It ends up with a no-good scoundrel, whose name I have already forgotten and am too lazy to look up, who decides to leave it to his niece, Rachel Verinder, on her 18th birthday. Rachel is a Mary Sue and oppressingly boring. Rachel’s mother, Lady Julia Verinder, is convinced that the diamond is a curse and is a last middle-finger from her brother’s grave. As the Diamond makes its way to England, we learn from our first of several narrators, that three suspicious-looking men from India are looking around the estate. It must be an omen. Sidenote: I was interested in the story, but Collins’ first narrator (Gabriel Betteredge) is a servant who is absolutely Jonesing for Lady Verinder. It’s so pandering and B.O.R.I.N.G. We get about 190 pages of his absolutely sickening devotion to the family. Dude, we get it. Julian Fellowes probably read your part when he created most of the Downton Abbey servants.

Ahem. Back to the story. The Diamond arrives via Rachel’s cousin, Franklin Blake, who is in love with Rachel. A servant girl, formerly a thief and found in a Reformatory (which means she was probably also a prostitute at one time) is in love with Franklin. On top of these hijinks, Rachel’s other cousin, Geoffrey Ablewhite, arrives and is *also* in love with Rachel. Apparently, England ran out of rich women.

There’s this birthday party, in which Rachel is determined to wear the Moonstone proudly, which makes me think she probably just discovered her boobies and is even more eager to show those off, but I digress. Weird conversations happen, the party is ruined, and Franklin makes a fool out of himself. The next morning, the Moonstone has disappeared from Rachel’s bedroom. And then the mystery begins.

It’s actually a halfway decent mystery, but the setup takes forever, and Gabriel is a profoundly self-important narrator who almost had me quitting the book entirely. The resolution is interesting and not entirely out of the realm of possibility. I just may have reached the limit of my enjoyment of Victorian novels. Or maybe it’s just that I like George Eliot too much to like other Victorian novelists.

You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.

Shaman’s Cannonball Read #CBR5 review #16: No name by Wilkie Collins

This book was given to me as a gift by a friend. It is not the kind of book I would normally give a second look at a bookstore, let alone buy: I prefer modern literature, because I’ve always believed that finding common ground with the characters in books that are over a hundred years old would be hard for me. I was wrong.

Set in the 1860s, No name is the story of Magdalen, the youngest of two sisters, who become very poor indeed when their parents die without having taken the necessary steps to make sure the two young women inherit their fortune. The women deal with the loss of their parents, their name and this fortune in very different ways, and Magdalen’s way is that of revenge against those she perceives as responsible for the injustice.

My fear that I would have trouble identifying with the characters was unfounded. Apart from the occasional fainting spell suffered by one woman or another, which seems so overly dramatic in this day and age, I could easily understand the emotions, motives and actions of the protagonists, despite the 150-year old gap between their experience and mine.

Although the language was more formal than I am used to, I didn’t feel it was a problem while I was reading the book. Still, it took me two months to get through it, so I suppose that it does take longer to read if you’re not used to this kind of language. It was a complex novel in a way, with many major (and minor) characters, and several parts to the story. Yet, it kept me interested throughout. I can’t say I found Magdalen likeable – her actions make her seem like a derailed train, a catastrophe waiting to happen; but her struggle to do what she thought was right while simultaneously doing things that are so obviously wrong made for compelling reading.