The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone - Wilkie CollinsThe Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
Oxford World’s Classics, 1999

Originally published in 1868
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or, download for free from Project Gutenberg

On her eighteenth birthday Rachel Verinder receives a diamond, known as the moonstone, from her uncle Herncastle, who left it to her in his will. There is reason to suspect the motives of Herncastle, as there is a legend that anyone who steals the moonstone from its shrine in India will be cursed with the moon god’s revenge. That fear seems immediately realised when three Indian men appear at Rachel’s birthday party who show a keen interest in the stone. When Rachel wakes up the next morning, the moonstone is missing. Which brings us to the beginning of the mystery at the heart of The Moonstone.

I received a copy of The Moonstone from Alex last year when I visited London and we did a small book swap with other bloggers. I was excited because I knew this meant an impetus to finally read one of Wilkie Collins’ books, of which I had heard so much. Plus, it is an Oxford World’s Classics copy to boot!

What I particularly loved about The Moonstone was that it is at times more character study than mystery. The story is told from alternating perspectives by characters who are all acquainted and involved in the mystery somehow. As the stories are told in somewhat chronological order, with the presence of an editor playing in the background, there are occasions when you are shown the narrators struggling with what they knew at the period of time they’re describing and what they know now (Miss Clack). Moreover, the narrators all position themselves differently in regards to the mystery and each other, so you will often find them commenting on each other. And these comments need not be nice!

This subtle, or not so subtle, criticism of the other narrators had me sniggering from time to time. Really, I hadn’t expected it, but The Moonstone is a very funny story. I don’t think I often find myself laughing about a story so much. This is not only because of the comments the narrator make about each other, but also for the characters themselves. I especially found Gabriel Betteredge wildly entertaining. His insistence on using Robinson Crusoe as his “bible” to turn to for advice (there was a moment in the book where I felt that Collins might have been criticising anyone who takes written text as the ultimate truth), and his always finding something suitable in the book for his situation – loved it.

There are of course things to be said about the Victorian portrayal of women and Indians. I don’t want to delve too deep into that because my mind is currently very much a blank as I have been staring at an article and participating in a master class all day. Nevertheless, there are some small remarks I would like to make. For one, while some of the women are irrational, portrayed as easily run away with feeling, there are moments in which the book can be quite refreshing in suddenly casting a woman in an independent, rational, and even heroic role.

The same could be said about the portrayal of Indians. True, they are the mysterious strangers that are immediately made out to be suspicious. But there are also moments when these stereotypes are turned around and contrasted positively with British identity [which, I realise, might still be considered "othering"]. Moreover, there is the recurring question of who Collins feels the moonstone truly belongs to. There are hints throughout the novel that the three Indians looking for the stone may actually be right in their pursuing it, since it was taken from their country. At the same time, the Indians are not innocent, and portrayed as willing to kill if need be. And what to make of one character who is possibly half-Indian but [spoiler: has a heroic role in the discovery of the question of who took the stone and why]. In the words of John Sutherland, who wrote the introduction to my edition, ‘Collins is adept at raising subversive thoughts in the reader only to leave them ambiguously hanging.’ Which is exactly one of the reasons why this book is such an interesting read.

After reading The Moonstone I am definitely on the lookout for more Wilkie Collins. Any suggestions which book I should read next?

RIP VII button 2I read The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins for R.I.P. VII as hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings. Click over to the RIP Review Site for more reads with a autumnal feel.

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21 thoughts on “The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

  1. lynnsbooks

    Without a question of doubt you must read The Woman in White. Really. Good review – makes me want to go and have a revisit – I never really do that and I should!
    Lynn :D

    Reply
    1. Iris Post author

      The Woman in White is on my list :) I have a feeling that one might be recommended quite often. The weird thing is that despite really enjoying The Moonstone I can see myself delaying reading another Collins because his books are so lengthy. Not that I noticed while reading The Moonstone, but length sometimes makes me hesitate when I need to pick a new book to read.

      Reply
      1. lynnsbooks

        Definitely the length of some books can be a bit off putting! The worst thing about reading a really long book of course is when you don’t end up enjoying it – so much time wasted that could be spend on better books. I don’t think you will notice the length or have a problem with liking The Woman in White though as it’s so well told – in fact it’s compelling and in parts gripping and unputdownable.
        Lynn :D

        Reply
  2. Emily Jane

    Yes, The Woman in White! I also thought it was interesting that in The Moonstone he reproduces stereotypes about women and Indians but then pokes holes in those same stereotypes…as for The Woman in White, his female protagonist is SO GREAT and completely turns Victorian stereotypes about women upside down (though maybe her sister is the normative counterpoint). It’s maybe not as funny as The Moonstone (I also giggled at sweet old Betteredge and his Robinson Crusoe!) but I think I might have found it even more suspenseful and enjoyable than The Moonstone, which says a lot!

    Reply
  3. Jenny

    Yayyyy The Moonstone! I’m glad you liked it so much! John Sutherland’s description of Collins’s handling of subversive elements is so true, and you see it even more in The Woman in White (which is the only other Collins book I’ve read, so the only one I can recommend to you, sorry!). There’s a lady character in The Woman in White that’s quite fantastic, but Collins does not appear quite certain of what to do with her once he has her.

    Reply
  4. Cori Ashley (@letseatgrandpa)

    I’ll chime in and say The Woman in White — it’s SO GOOD. I’ve also heard The Lady and the Law (I think that’s what it’s called) is really great as well. I have it on my shelf, but I haven’t tackled it yet. I think it’s about an inheritance. Ooooh.

    Reply
  5. Kristen M.

    I’m so glad you liked this one! If you’re put off by length, Collins has some short stories that are very good. Look for the Oxford Collection with Miss or Mrs?, The Haunted Hotel and The Guilty River. It’s a fun set of stories! And Armadale is really long but SO SO good.

    Reply
  6. Leeswammes

    Yeah, The Moonstone! I liked it but I didn’t like it’s length (more how he goes on and on with descriptions and side alleys rather than going on with the story). But that’s typical of that age, Dickens does it, too, of course.

    I would also suggest The Woman in White. I have to admit, these are the only two books I’ve read by Collins, but I think The Woman in White is even better than The Moonstone.

    Reply
  7. hmur67

    This is a great little book. I also recommend Women in White. I read The moonstone several years ago then read my way through as many of Wilkie Collins’ books as I could.

    Reply
  8. Marie

    When it comes to the classics I can’t claim to be very well-read but Wilkie Collins is someone who has always appealed to me and this review has only reinforced that. It sounds great!

    Reply
  9. aartichapati

    I read The Woman in White earlier this year but will refrain from commenting on it as you clearly already have a lot of people advocating it here! I enjoyed it much more than I expected to as I didn’t much care for Armadala.

    I have The Moonstone on my shelf to read but I think I am going to wait a while to do so. I will probably try for an audiobook version of it, too – the Librivox group read of The Woman in White was fantastic!

    Reply
  10. Alex

    I’m very glad you liked it! I’ve also only read The Woman in White by Collins. I know it’s a favorite by many, but I found the two main characters too… meek? I’ve heard great things about Rachel, so I’m curious about this one.

    Reply
  11. zibilee

    This is one that I wanted to read, and then someone spoiled the ending for me, so I never picked it up. After reading what you’ve said about it, I might just go for it. I have never read Collins before!

    Reply
  12. Elena

    I’ve long wanted to read this one since I fell in love with The Woman in White a few years ago. Can’t wait to buy the new Penguin edition.

    Reply
  13. debbierodgers

    I read both The Moonstone and The Woman in White earlier this year. Wilkie really had a wicked sense of humour!

    Reply
  14. Alice

    I read The Moonstone in University, as part of my course, and loved it. I’m glad you enjoyed it too, it is the first of it’s kind – the first detective novel and the first (I believe) to have character based chapters, it really is marvellous.

    I agree with you on Collin’s views on women and ethnicities, it is discomforting.

    I am trying to read The Woman in White by Collins, I’ve picked it up and put it down a few times now as it is rather difficult to get into.

    Reply
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