Friday, April 16, 2010

A Little Old Time Detective Novel

I am chronically late to the party.  Whatever the party may be, I am one of those procrastinating, walking in 5-20 minutes late kind of people.  This is never more true in my life than in literature and film.  It takes a long time for me to get around to watching the "it" movie or reading the besteller.  So long, in fact, that I often don't get around to it.   
I am currently refusing to buy any more books until I have cleared away many of the books on my "to read" shelf.
These two realities in my life are leading to great new discoveries...and for that I am happy.
The discovery this week: Wilkie Collins.  As part of my Classics Challenge, I decided to read The Moonstone, A Romance.  The subtitle of the book seems a misnomer for most of the book, but I guess is fitting for the ending.  Part of the beauty of the story is it could be called The Moonstone, A Mystery or The Moonstone, A Character Study just as easily.  The romance is definitely in the background (it can get a little soapy every once in a while); but it really is a detective story (of the English sort).
Whilst reading this one, I found myself guessing at the resolution endlessly, changing my decision of whodunnit at many turns.  The gift of Wilkie Collins is the sleight of hand created by the numerous narrators and the red herrings placed throughout.  What emerges while reading is a layered storyline of mystery upon mystery, but you start questioning if they really are mysteries or character quirks.  It is truly something to an old time Lost for the generation of the 1850's (mind you I never have gotten around to watching Lost, but I am told it is maddening in it's mysterious storylines). 
The multiple narrators charged with telling all they personally know of events is delightful.  Collins employed the right narrators at the right time and devoted more pages to the ones he must have known the reader would like better.  My favorite narrator (the dead-wife-despising house-steward) begins and sums up the book.  He gets what he calls "detective fever" as the pages fly by, but his fatal flaw preventing him from actually solving any mystery is a constitutional "superiority to reason."  He implores the reader on many an occasion to avoid it, once stating: "Cultivate a superiority to reason, and see how you pare the claws of all the sensible people when they try to scatch you for your own good."  He is also entirely loveable for his unadulterated devotion to the book Robinson Crusoe.  It is his bible, his prophet, his comforter.  Collins did not create an entire cast of characters with odd personality traits, but the few characters he created are memorable. 

Rating: 5.75 out of 7


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