Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Woman in White

So, I just finished the Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and I have to say:

1. Doppelganger stories are such fun. 
2. Multiple narrator stories can be a bit tedious because the reader may not like some of the narrators.
3.  Wilkie Collins was indeed a genius.

Who doesn't love a good doppelganger in their mystery?  I mean they look just alike and can be played by the same actor (oh, if only Susan Luci had been blond and made the movie back when she was young!).  The device employed by Collins to have a low-brow and a high-brow look-a-like contest is used quite nicely and gives him many sleight of hand opportunities which he uses.  The novel is very much a mystery.  I found it to be quite page-turning at times.  Collins does depend a little too much on the whole the weather portends the coming events device, but I can't fault him; many authors and screenwriters do that today (did you see last week's episode of Revenge?).

A while back I read and reviewed The Moonstone by Mr. Collins and remember very much liking it for the multiple narrator device he employed.  He took a stab at it again in The Woman in White with a little less aplomb.  It is interesting when you like the character detailing the events of the story, less so when you don't like the character.  One character in particular is devastatingly annoying and thus, Collins mercifully kept his portion of the storytelling to a minimum. 

While The Moonstone is considered one of the world's first detective novels, The Woman in White is considered the first of another genre, sensational novels.  The sensational novel was characterized by bizarre plot points occurring in close to home settings.  The sensational novel is distinguished from other Gothic literature because it brought the "horror" home instead of keeping it abroad (where awful things happen akin to movies like Hostel).  But, don't be fooled, The Woman in White is a type of detective novel itself.  And add to that: it has a twist on the detective genre in that it features a man-woman pairing of detectives (and their partnership does not have any romantic overtones, they saved that for Moonlighting and Castle).  This partners in investigation technique works brilliantly because Collins created just the right characters with just the right motivations for their work.  So in two ways, The Woman in White broke ground, thus making Collins a genius because he figured it out and then made money on it (while he was still alive).

I do have to say that the story has a tendency to drag in parts (a possible downside to serialized literature) and the denouement is a little drawn out for my tastes (it also has a "neat little bow" ending that grates just slightly).  But for the most part this is a great novel. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 7


NOTE for those who have read the book (SPOILER ALERT):  Did anyone notice that Collins made a small error (or did you think it was an error) in having Fosco make an entry into the journal of Miss Holcombe at the end (presumably while she was incapacitated), but then never explained how he got his hands on the journal or mentioned a horror that he had read her journal?