The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I am loving reading Sensation novels at the moment. I just can’t get enough! I love the mystery, the suspense, and the fact that I feel really clever every time I finish them because I haven’t failed to guess the guilty party yet!

I’ll start by saying that I didn’t find The Moonstone as good as The Woman in White. It lacked the compelling, all consuming central mystery of the latter; it also wasn’t particularly menacing in the way that I found TWIW to be.It was a tad unconvincing too, and rather easy to guess who the guilty party was, but even with all these things considered, it was still a gripping and very entertaining read.

As with all novels of this type it’s hard to give a proper synopsis without ruining the plot for those who haven’t read it, but I shall try my best. The book opens with a transcript of a ‘family paper’ detailing the stealing of a famous Indian diamond, known as the Moonstone, from a ransacked temple during a battle between the English and the Indians in the late 18th century. Fast forward to the ‘present’ day (the mid 1800s) and we have Gabriel Betteredge, the faithful retainer of the good Lady Verinder and her beautiful teenage daughter Rachel, narrating the story of how the said Moonstone comes into the Verinder household.

It is important to know that the Moonstone was stolen from a Hindu temple; it is sacred and was always guarded by three Hindus who would fight to the death to protect it. They are supposed to follow it everywhere, and this duty is passed down the generations. Wherever the Moonstone goes, the guards follow. Now, Lady Verinder’s brother was part of the group of officers ransacking the temple, and he brought the Moonstone back with him after stealing it. There is a vague fear of curses etc associated with the diamond and so it is kept locked away during Lady Verinder’s brother’s lifetime. When he dies it emerges he has left it to his niece Rachel to be given on her 18th birthday; is this as a revenge to his sister who refused to acknowledge him because of his dastardly ways or an atonement (the diamond is worth ¬£20,000, a collossal amount at the time)? No one is sure. But, Franklin Blake, Rachel’s cousin and Lady Verinder’s nephew, is trusted by the family solicitor to deliver the Moonstone to Rachel on her 18th birthday, as instructed, and this is where the problems begin.

Rachel is duly given the Moonstone, but not without plenty of misgivings on Lady Verinder, Franklin Blake and Gabriel Betteredge’s parts; three Indian conjurors have been hanging about the house since Franklin arrived, and knowing Lady Verinder’s brother’s hatred of her, everyone is concerned that the Moonstone is indeed cursed, and could bring harm to the lovely Rachel. On the morning after her birthday, Rachel wakes to find the diamond gone, but after preliminary investigations it emerges that the suspicious looking Indians have an alibi, and there is no sign of a break in; the theft had to be an inside job. Inside the house at the time were Rachel, Lady Verinder, Franklin, another cousin, Godfrey Ablewhite, an upstanding do gooder who longs for Rachel’s hand in marriage (as does Franklin), plus a large crowd of servants, some of whom have plenty of secrets of their own. Who could have done it? And why? And if it has been stolen by a member of the household, where has it gone? A famous detective from London, Sergeant Cuff, is called up to give his assistance, but there is great resistance from Rachel, who doesn’t seem to want the identity of the thief to be discovered, and is acting very strangely. As the mystery grows deeper, even the Sergeant is left baffled, and with various changes of narrator down the line, we are left hanging almost to the very end, a year later in the story, until all of the clues are unravelled to find out who stole the Moonstone, and why.

It’s a gripping read, with plenty of twists and turns, and some very interesting characters. I liked the way the narrator kept changing; it was interesting to see how different a take the various story tellers had on the events and the people involved. The most exciting thing for me though was that Wilkie Collins took part of his inspiration from the murder described in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher; Sergeant Cuff is based on Mr Whicher, and the idea of the perpetrator of the crime being within the household was taken from the same situation in the Road Hill House murder. This aspect is fascinating; the idea that you can have people you trust living under your roof without really knowing them at all is something that must have sent a chill down contemporary readers’ spines, especially with the saga of the Road Hill House murder being all over the papers at the time, and with most households employing at least one servant, whose private life was usually an enigma to its employers.

All in all, I greatly enjoyed The Moonstone, but I did find in places it betrayed its serial origins; inconsistencies abound where Collins clearly changed his mind about people half way through, plot lines are tidied up too hastily and in places too much is given away too early. It certainly wasn’t as slick as The Woman in White. Even so, this is still a brilliant, suspenseful and marvellously wintry read; perfect to curl up in front of the fire with on a dark and dreary November afternoon. It’s left me with a longing for even MORE sensation novels, too; my next is going to be No Name.

p.s. The image I’ve used is by an artist called Alfred Stevens, who painted the picture OUP have used for their Oxford World’s Classics edition. Personally I think the painting of his I have used is far more appropriate!

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21 comments

  1. I love Cuff! I wanted more of him the entire time – there's a mystery writer called Elizabeth Peters who actually used Cuff as a character in one of her books (it's set in Victorian times too). He is a detective and he grows roses. Peters doesn't bash you over the head with the fact that Cuff is from Wilkie Collins, so it always makes me smile.

  2. I agree with you Rachel. I preferred The Woman in White to the Moonstone. In fact, it's my least favourite Collins novel. No Name and Aramadale are better and they're fun too!

  3. No Name is a very well constructed novel. I really enjoyed that one. I love that Wilkie Collins has been getting a new life recently!

  4. I love The Moonstone for its narrators- Gabriel, Miss Clack, Godfrey and co and agree the mystery is ludicrous. Great fun so long as you don't get to caught up with demanding internal logic.No Name is particulary enjoyable because it has a very strong young woman as its protagonist navigating the usual Collins twists and turns.

  5. I actually preferred The Moonstone to The Woman in White…possibly because it was my introduction to the sensation novel. No Name will be my next Collins, but it may be a while before I get to it!

  6. My book group has chosen The Moonstone for our Christmas read and I'm looking forward to it. Having read the Suspicions of Mr Whicher, I'm hoping that'll add another layer to it for me.

  7. What a superb review Rachel, this is one of the Wilkie Collins novels that I have yet to read but am planning on reading in December, so will have more thoughts on it then. The Dead Secret which I reviewed yesterday is a good one as is No Name and still for me the mother of all Collins books Armadale. He is swiftly usurping Daphne from her favouirte author thrown for me.

  8. The covers on several of the Oxford World's Classics are so beautiful that I selfishly would love to own them even if they're duplicates!Since I have yet to be initiated into the world of Wilkie Collins, I'll put a couple of titles under my belt before reading The Moonstone. Your review created quite an image for me so I Googled to see if a movie had been made and it has…Greg Wise stars in it.

  9. The Moonstone is the only Wilkie Collins novel I have read and I loved it. I am really looking forward to reading The Woman in White as I have heard so many great things about it. I'm pleased that you enjoyed this one!

  10. Hmmm. I have a suspicion that I will love The Moonstone when I get around to reading it, because it involves precious stones and sounds a bit like a Sensation / Indiana Jones / Nancy Drew hybrid. Nice review!

  11. Really, the number of British people who have stolen sacred objects from religious sites… :-)I am sad you didn't like this one as much as Woman in White, mainly because I own The Moonstone and not Woman in White. Sigh.

  12. Like JoAnn, I preferred The Moonstone to The Woman in White but I do suspect that readers become attached to their first Collins/introduction to the sensational novel. I love its outrageous plot twists and hyperbole; the multiple narration was the best part and I didn't think that The Woman in White achieved that as convincingly.

  13. I really liked The Moonstone, but I loved The Woman in White and even more so Armadale! Sensation lit is great fun, even if it isn't too hard to figure things out. I got a kick out Mrs Clack (if I remember her name as it's been a while) and her religious tracts! I have yet to read No Name–maybe next year. I usually try and read at least one Wilkie Collins every year. This year was The Dead Secret–not one of his best, but still entertaining!

  14. I'm reading The Woman in White right now, my first Wilkie Collins, and loving it! The Moonstone is on the tbr pile. But will have to add more very soon, I think. I'm even more eager to read Mr Whicher now that you mention it..

  15. Jenny – I loved Cuff too! I am going to have to look that book up now! Thanks for the tip.Mrs B – I'm glad you share my opinion! I don't think the mystery of the Moonstone is convincing to a modern day audience.Kristen – I am LOVING No Name! Wilkie definitely deserves a revival. His books are completely accessible classics!Devoted Reader – The narrators were all endearing in their own ways. Like I just said to Kristen I have just started No Name and I love it – I can't see where it's headed and that's always a good thing!JoAnn – Yes I think if I hadn't have read TWIW first I would have loved The Moonstone more. Don't leave No Name too long, it's brilliant!Annabel – Personally I found knowing the Whicher story was really useful in understanding The Moonstone in a deeper, more contextually relevant way. I hope your group enjoys it!Verity – Thank you! Yes you must! As soon as possible!Simon – Thanks Simon! Better than Daphne, eh?! I have you to thank for my rediscovery of Wilkie and I am anxious to try Armadale after No Name…but I have East Lynne to read first! I look forward to reading your Moonstone thoughts!Darlene – Aren't the covers beautiful? Can you get them in Canada? The No Name cover is stunning but I don't have that edition. I am so glad we are reading along together!Jackie – You will adore TWIW – it has so much suspense and menace in it, I loved it!Novel Insights – Thanks – I think you just summed it up wonderfully, and hilariously!Aarti – Hehehe! Us colonising Brits! Oh The Moonstone is very good anyway – still read it! Then read TWIW and be BLOWN away!Claire – Yes I think you're right – where you start will always be your favourite. I loved the multiple narrators in The Moonstone but my memory of TWIW is now confused with Fingersmith so I can't remember the way he does it in that very well!Danielle – I loved Miss Clack too! I really want to read Armadale. You're right, sensation fiction is good clean fun and because they're classed as 'classics' these days you don't have to feel guilty about reading them! From the first few chapters I've read I can promise you that No Name is a great read!Claire – Glad you are loving TWIW! It's fabulous! Do read Mr Whicher, it's such a great cultural/historical background for sensation novels.

  16. Too late to weigh in? I liked The Woman in White more than The Moonstone. Though I still feel The Moonstone is worthy and I'm keeping my little edition because it's a lovely little collins.

  17. What a wonderful review. I can't imagine anyone not wanting to read The Moonstone after that. It was my first Wilkie Collins, but I also preferred The Woman in White. You're making me want to go pull all the sensational novels off my shelves!

  18. Heather – it's never too late to weigh in! Yes I still think the Moonstone is a very worthy novel too – that little Collins of yours might just take your fancy again one day!Makedo- Thank you! You know, I am so glad I am reading my way through so many sensation novels – it's wonderful to actually take the time to totally absorb myself in one genre. It's not an indulgence I normally allow myself.

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