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The Moonstone Paperback – 26 November 1998
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The Moonstone, a priceless yellow diamond, is looted from an Indian temple and maliciously bequeathed to Rachel Verinder. On her eighteenth birthday, her friend and suitor Franklin Blake brings the gift to her. That very night, it is stolen again. No one is above suspicion, as the idiosyncratic Sergeant Cuff and the Franklin piece together a puzzling series of events as mystifying as an opium dream and as deceptive as the nearby Shivering Sand. The intricate plot and modern technique of multiple narrators made Wilkie Collins's 1868 work a huge success in the Victorian sensation genre. With a reconstruction of the crime, red herrings and a 'locked-room' puzzle, The Moonstone was also a major precursor of the modern mystery novel.
In her introduction Sandra Kemp explores The Moonstone's the detective elements of Collins's writing, and reveals how Collins's sensibilities were untypical of his era.
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) was born in London in 1824, the eldest son of the landscape painter William Collins. In 1846 he was entered to read for the bar at Lincoln's Inn, where he gained the knowledge that was to give him much of the material for his writing. From the early 1850s he was a friend of Charles Dickens, who produced and acted in two melodramas written by Collins, The Lighthouse and The Frozen Deep. Of his novels, Collins is best remembered for The Woman in White (1859), No Name (1862), Armadale (1866) and The Moonstone (1868).
If you enjoyed The Moonstone you might like Collins's The Woman in White, also available in Penguin Classics.
'Probably the very finest detective story ever written'
Dorothy L. Sayers
'The first, the longest and the best of modern modern English detective novels'
Frequently bought together
--T. S. Eliot
About the Author
Sandra Kemp has edited Virginia Woolf's short stories and Rudyard Kipling's 'Debits and Credits' for Penguin
- Publisher : Penguin; 2 edition (26 November 1998)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0140434089
- ISBN-13 : 978-0140434088
- Dimensions : 12.95 x 2.29 x 19.81 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 36,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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For example: "If you know anything of the fashionable world, you may have heard tell of the three beautiful Miss Herncastles..." is changed by kindle to "If whatever of the stylish international, you have got heard tell of the three lovely Miss Herncastles...". For a book loved for its style (old-fashioned) of English, this is awful.
There was more than one kindle edition offered, and I wonder if another one is better, if so, please tell me.
Specifically, there was "The Moonstone," a long and twisting Victorian tale that is considered the first mystery novel in the English language. Wilkie Collins's writing can be a bit dense at times (well, it IS a Victorian story) but it also has a cast of quirky characters in a very colorful story, and an unusually forward-thinking approach to class. How many other novels of this type have the BUTLER as the narrator?
After ten years in continental Europe, Franklin Blake returns to England to bring his cousin Rachel Verinder her eighteenth birthday present: a massive diamond called the Moonstone. It was left to her by her vile uncle, possibly as a malicious act -- three Hindu priests are lurking nearby, hoping to reclaim the sacred gem stolen from them long ago. Everyone except Rachel really wants the diamond split up, so it will no longer be a danger.
At the same time, Rachel is being wooed by two men -- the somewhat irresponsible young Franklin, and the prosperous but less attractive Godfrey Ablewhite. And a timid, deformed young maid named Rosanna has fallen desperately in love with Franklin (though he's completely oblivious to this).
Then after a dinner party, the Moonstone vanishes, leaving a smudge on a newly-painted door as the only clue. It seems that only someone in the house could have stolen it. But it doesn't turn up in any police sweeps, the priests have alibis, and Rachel flatly refuses to let Sergeant Cuff investigate further. She also refuses to speak to Franklin again. And after several months, Franklin learns of some new clues that could reveal who stole the Moonstone. With the now-retired Cuff and a disgraced doctor's assistant helping him, he sets out to unravel the mystery once and for all.
"The Moonstone" contains a lot of the tropes that later detective novels would use -- reenactment of the crime, red herrings, the culprit being the least likely suspect, and an English country house where you wouldn't expect a theft to take place. It even has TWO detectives -- a quirky police sergeant with plenty of brains, and a gentleman who is bright but kind of inexperienced.
Collins' prose can be a bit bloated at times, but he keeps it moving fast with lots of romantic drama and a hefty dose of humor (the insufferably pious Miss Clack: "Oh, be morally tidy. Let your faith be as your stockings, and your stockings as your faith"). He also switches between different perspectives throughout the book -- part is from the butler Mr. Betteridge, part is from Miss Clack, part is from Franklin Blake himself, and there are little snatches of text from various other people.
And it's quirky. Very quirky. At times it feels like the Victorian equivalent of a Wes Anderson movie, between Betteridge's fanboy preoccupation with Robinson Crusoe (which he uses for EVERYTHING) or Cuff's love of roses (which you wouldn't immediately associate with an elite police detective).
But there is a serious side to Collins' writing as well. Yes, "The Moonstone" has some uncomfortably sexist or racist moments, but he was never afraid to take a jab at the foibles of his own society -- hypocritical piety, stainable reputations or then-legal drug addiction. He also takes an unusually compassionate approach to the servant class in the character of Rosanna Spearman -- though she is plain, deformed and has a checkered history, Collins never mocks her or her hopeless love of Franklin.
He also provides us with a wide range of characters -- from wild young men to stately ladies, from a genial butler to the mysterious priests who are the likeliest suspects... but didn't actually do it. Rachel's melodrama can be a bit irritating at times (why didn't she confront Franklin?), but Franklin grows into a more responsible, thoughtful young man over the story, and he's balanced out nicely by the age and experience of the quirky Cuff and Betteridge.
"The Moonstone" is still a delightful read -- a powerful and sometimes tragic mystery, tempered with quirky humor and a likable cast of characters. While a bit overlong at times, it's still an outstanding little whodunnit.
Top reviews from other countries
What it has in common with its worthier descendants is its emphasis on character, which is assisted by the use of a number of narrative voices. The fates of all participants are of interest, even where only indirectly connected to the main story.
The book is available to read online for free, or as a free Kindle book.
I found Rachel's behaviour to Blake to be as strange as her family members found it. I had some suspicion as to why but was proved wrong!
The plot thickened through some repetition and the story is not the most exciting but, despite this, I found the book to be strangely addictive.
The reason for the Diamond's disappearance and the twists and turns before the ending were enjoyable. I had guessed the culprit by the end but not how the deed had been done.
I feel the ending of this book was immensely satisfying and recommend it to anyone who has an interest in the period and of classical writing styles.
I was surprised how modern this book still is even though it was published over a hundred years ago. I was especially struck by the conversations between Rachel Verrinder and Franklin Blake – her on/off fiancé. I thought the author caught the different voices of his narrators very well indeed and I was never in any doubt who was narrating the story. This is well worth reading even today and it puts some modern crime novelists in the shade.
It was a good story line & plot but up until at least 3/4 way it was too convuluted, too much minutiae & would have been a lot more interesting had it been condensed somewhat.
Had it not been for the end third I was ready to say it was the worst book I'd ever read but the pace hastened & kept my interest. I must congratulate the author some of his characters were so well written you felt you knew them & could empathise with them.
The narrative of Gabriel Betteredge, which introduces the characters, setting and plot is brilliant - informative, amusing, and well-judged. We get to know this charming, old-fashioned old buffer, with his passion for Robinson Crusoe; and we are intrigued by the exotic background to the "unlucky jewel". And the circumstances of the theft are as much a mystery to us as they are to the characters in the book. In other words, a great set-up.
Then it starts to go wrong: first, a plot weakness, then an unbelievable suicide note; then a preposterous reconstruction. The second half of the book is so disappointing. I put it down partly to "serialitis", and (with Mr Sutherland's intro in mind) the author's poor health and drug dependence.
(By "serialitis" I mean the practice of dragging out a story issued in instalments when it has proved to be a success. For an extreme example, see "The Count of Monte Cristo". Modern example? Game of Thrones.)
The second narrative, that of Drusilla Clack is promising. Miss Clack is a tiresome god-botherer and Collins had a lot of fun with her character - but she too is intelligent and observant. During the early part of her narrative the mystery seems to be nearing a solution. We hear about the attacks on Godfrey Ablewhite and moneylender Septimus Luker, and the bank deposit of a precious jewel by Luker. "The Moonstone?" asks Rachel. The shrewd lawyer Mr Bruff thinks so. He also points out that Ablewhite was the first to leave Yorkshire for London, and thinks that things look bad for him.
So.... we just need the police to establish whether the "precious jewel" is indeed the Moonstone and to force Luker to say who pledged it. But nothing happens. This thread is left hanging. So for the next 250 pages I'm thinking, it's Ablewhite. So when it turns out to be the case, it's a huge anti-climax.
Much of the second half of the book is the narrative of Franklin Blake. Blake has been presented as an interesting modern character with a multi-cultural background: yet his narrative is matter-of-fact and rather dull. But what about that buried confession by Rosanna Spearman? A 20-page suicide note? That reads like another narrative deposition? Credibility is strained to the utmost.
Much of the last quarter of the book is given over to the reconstruction of the night of the theft. The whole idea is utterly preposterous, yet at the same time predictable. The character of Ezra Jennings is surplus to requirements anyway - the author could have expanded and changed the role of Dr Candy to deal with Jennings part of the story. I'm not impressed by Sergeant Cuff - he comes to the wrong conclusion and fails to solve the mystery, in fact he's no more effective than the boneheaded local bobbies.
But in spite of the above, there is a lot to admire in this book. A huge effort has gone into the construction of the story, and in the creation of a cast of interesting and (largely) believable characters. Above all, the book is a work of great originality (though much imitated since).
Btw, you can't sink into quicksand over your head, except in fiction. The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Woman in Black, and several other works repeat this canard.