Review: The Moonstone

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I can honestly say that The Moonstone probably would have sat on my shelves, unread, for a number of years had it not been chosen by someone else for me to read. This is what I get for being indecisive. A whopping 608 page classic, written in 1868. Surprising to me, was the fact that I did enjoy the novel. Touted to be the first and best of modern English detective novels, The Moonstone, certainly kept me guessing.

First off, let’s see if I can summarize a 608 page novel:

A precious Indian jewel is cursed after it is stolen from its Hindu shrine. Fifty years later, the thief of said jewel, passes it down to his estranged niece on her eighteenth birthday. Shortly after, the jewel disappears, throwing the household and family into complete disarray. The Moonstone (aptly titled, as this is the jewel’s title) lays out the mystery in a series of narratives; each being told from a different individual as they come into the drama. As such, the novel covers the time before, during and after the disappearance of the stone.

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And of course, because this is a review about a classic, it has to include the one complain I always have: the wordiness. Six-hundred and eight pages is always a big task to read. Six-hundred and eight pages of 1800s classical language is an even bigger task. Just like many other classics, while good and entertaining, The Moonstone does fall victim to the unfortunate wordiness that novels of that time-frame seemed to enjoy. The best example I can use is the fact that the first three chapters have nothing to do with the story. The only reason that The Moonstone powers through this fault is because of the narrator at the time. If you cannot believe me, please enjoy the following quotes:

Still, this don’t look much like starting the story of the Diamond – does it? I seem to be wandering off in search of Lord knows what, Lord knows where. We will take a new sheet of paper, if you please, and begin over again, with my best respects to you. (End of chapter 1, page 21)

In the meantime, here is another false start, and more waste of good writing-paper. What’s to be done now? Nothing that I know of, except for you to keep your temper, and for me to begin it all over again for the third time. (End of chapter 2, page 26)

Thanks be to Heaven, we have arrived at the eve of the birthday at last! You will own, I think, that I have got you over the ground this time, without much loitering by the way. Cheer up! I’ll ease you with another new chapter here – and what is more, that chapter shall take you straight into the thick of the story. (End of chapter 6, page 84)

To have to read 84 pages before the story could be said to have even begun, is quite a lot to read. Most people have a 50 page rule. And while The Moonstone wouldn’t pass the 50-page rule due to content, it would pass because of the narrator, himself: Mr. Betteredge.

When authors choose to tell the story in a perspective other than omnipresent, especially if it’s from the point of view of a character in the story, those characters have to be quite personable. There are narratives that are, of course, better and more interesting than others, but Betteredge certainly lands the accolade of favourite. As one can see from the above quotes, he’s pretty self-deprecating and he writes his sections as if he is talking to you in person. At one point, he even tells the reader to pay attention because he is about to discuss a very important section! It’s one of the few times in which I have experienced that type of narrative, and it certainly helps to detract from the fact that at times, classics can bog one down.

That being said, The Moonstone, does get bogged down. There were a lot of twists and turns throughout the story that kept me intrigued, but once the ending came near, I found myself skimming. I just wanted to finally know what happened to this diamond!! And sadly, the ending was just … okay. It wasn’t shocking, it wasn’t gasp-worthy, but it was entertaining. Some of the narrators slowed me down, either because they were unlikable, or because they had a portion of the story that really didn’t need to be told (my one complaint about classics: wordiness). I wish that Betteredge had told the whole story.

Overall, it was intriguing and an interesting novel to read. As one of the first English detective novels, it’s certainly interesting to see how the genre has developed through the years. The Moonstone certainly laid the groundwork.

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