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The Moonstone - Wilkie Collins

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Author: Wilkie Collins / Genre: Classic Literature

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    Your dooyooMiles Miles

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      05.02.2011 22:14
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      A must read for anyone who enjoys detective fiction

      One of the things that I love the most about 'The Moonstone' is how underrated it is. It does not feature predominantly in any list of classic literature, despite being exceedingly enjoyable and innovative. Even among Wilkie Collins's own works, 'The Woman in White' is probably the more well known of the two. This is surprising to me, as though I enjoyed 'The Woman in White' immensely, 'The Moonstone' has always been a particular favourite of mine. This is perhaps due to the fact that I picked it up not knowing much about it and not expecting very much from it - I generally tend to find that the books that you do not expect much from and usually the ones that you enjoy the most. 'The Moonstone' is such a book.

      The book has been described as 'the first ever detective novel', and indeed, this is basically true. The plot revolves around a valuable and supposedly cursed diamond that falls into the possession of a young woman, Rachel, on her 18th birthday. However, the diamond is not in her possession for long before it goes missing, which is when the story truly becomes a detective novel, though not as one may suppose. This is no Agatha Christie, nor an Arthur Conan Doyle mystery - while in those novels, the crime is at the centre of the book, in 'The Moonstone' we are made to feel that it is the characters that are important and that it is they who we should be trying to figure out. This is done particularly well with each chapter of the book being written from a different viewpoint - yet another feature of which Collins was the first to use. The focus on character is also preferable, considering that perpetrator of the crime is almost impossible to deduce - one can guess, of course, but that guess would be based on nothing more than a random choice. In other words, what I mean to say is that one should just sit back and allow the novel to flow over you, and enjoy it without treating the novel as your stereotypical 'whodunnit'.

      Another reason why I was so surprised and delighted with 'The Moonstone' comes from the fact that Collins was a contemporary - and indeed, a friend - of Charles Dickens. While Dickens is indisputably a master of his art, I have always found him singularly long-winded and difficult to read. Not so, Wilkie Collins. It was almost astonishing to me just how easy the novel was to read. So much so, that it could almost have been written in modern day. This being the case, it did not take me long at all to finish the book, and have a wonderful time doing so.

      It is for this reason that I strongly urge you to pick up 'The Moonstone'. I assure you that you will not only enjoy it, but will be surprised at just how enjoyable and readable it is.

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      27.01.2011 13:34

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      An excellent book, recommended to anyone who enjoys detective stories.

      The Moonstone is based on a simple premise- a rare diamond goes missing- and the plot revolves around the subsequent hunt for who took it and where it is now. The trail is a complicated and long one, involving all sorts of shady characters (disreputable sailors etc) and twists.

      The man charged with finding the diamond is Sergeant Cuff, but the story is told from the point of view of various participants, and written mostly in the form of letters, diaries and statements. I enjoyed this format, as it gives you a much better picture of many of the characters, and an interesting insight into how they view the mystery.

      The plot itself is absorbing and moves along fairly rapidly. However, I would say that this is not a book for dipping into, or reading on a crowded tube train, as it is quite easy to lose the thread of what's happening, and how it all fits together, if you can't concentrate. It is well worth the effort though, and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in detective stories, from teenagers upwards.

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      31.05.2009 16:11
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      Classic mystery novel

      '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 her gift to her. That very night, it is stolen again. No one is above suspicion, as the idiosyncratic Sergeant Cuff and Franklin piece together a puzzling series of events as mystifying as an opium dream and as deceptive as the nearby Shivering Sand.'

      Described by TS Eliot as 'The first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels', The Moonstone is a classic mystery story first published in 1868. It was written during the middle of the Victorian era and is set in London and Yorkshire in 1848 after beginning with a very atmospheric prologue in India during the Siege of Seringapatam fifty years earlier. In the prologue to The Moonstone, the diamond is originally stolen by brutal British Army Officer John Herncastle in India from a sacred temple - 'The Moonstone will have its vengeance on you and yours yet!' Bequeathed years later to Rachel Verinder, as revenge by Herncastle on the family that shunned him (the gem is said to have guardians), on her eighteenth birthday, it is stolen after one night, leading to a mysterious investigation and, at times, ingenious story that is remarkably gripping with some audacious twists. Is there a curse on this precious stone as legend suggests?

      I found The Moonstone to be a surprisingly compelling book that is quite hard to put down once you get into it. My paperback copy is 463 pages long so it's quite a long book too and will keep you occupied for a while. The story is told by several different characters and together they piece together the mystery of the diamond's disappearance and the subsequent quest to provide an answer to this strange and perplexing puzzle. This device is a clever one that allows us different accounts and viewpoints, sometimes overlapping and adding more complexity to the narrative. One of the strengths of the author is that he makes his characters distinct, seperate and vivid, something that books with a structure like this can struggle with.

      The Moonstone itself is almost like another character in the story and its mysterious loss at the Verinder's country home is very atmospheric as a set-piece. 'The light that streamed from it was like the light of the harvest moon. When you looked down into the stone, you looked into a yellow deep that drew your eyes into it so that they saw nothing else. It seemed unfathomable; this jewel, that you could hold between your finger and thumb, seemed as unfathomable as he heavens themselves. We set it in the sun, and then shut the light out of the room, and it shone awfully out of the depths of its own brightness, with a moony gleam, in the dark. No wonder Miss Rachel was fascinated: no wonder her cousins screamed.' The Moonstone has a nice dreamlike quality at times as a book.

      Almost as mysterious as the theft of the stone is Rachel's relationship with Franklin Blake, especially her sudden change of attitude towards him. The book supplies numerous intriguing questions and plot strands that you become very eager to get to the bottom of. Along the way we get suspicious servants, Indian jugglers, red-herrings, twists and turns, bungling local police (later to become a staple of this genre) and the 'Shivering Sand' which, like the Moonstone, is almost like a character. The Sands are an ominous presence in parts of the book, a desolate place that hides its secrets. 'The sunlight poured its unclouded beauty on every object that I could see. The exquisite freshness of the air made the mere act of living and breathing a luxury. Even the lonely little bay welcomed the morning with a show of cheerfulness; and the bared wet surface of the quicksand itself, glittering with a golden brightness, hid the horror of its false brown face under a passing smile.'

      There are some great characters in The Moonstone like Gabriel Bettteredge, the Verinder's old 'House-Steward' - 'Now I saw, though too late, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it.' By far the most important possession belonging to Bettteredge is a copy of Robinson Crusoe, a book which he believes can answer many of life's abstract questions. There is a theological subtext to his reliance on this book but it's quite an amusing and interesting device nonetheless. Bettteredge is a very vivid character at times. 'Let the Diamond be, Mr Franklin! Take my advice, and let the Diamond be! That cursed Indian jewel has misguided everybody who has come near it. Don't waste your money and temper - in the fine spring time of your life sir - by meddling with the Moonstone.'

      Another great character is the tormented Roseanna Spearman, a servant holding onto secrets. Spearman is used very well by the author to advance the plot. None of the characters seem superfluous. Another thing I like about the book too is that the author's sympathies often seem to lie with outsiders. Rachel is also a strong and impulsive character and comes across as an independent spirit.

      Perhaps the most interesting character in the book though is the rose-loving ('That's a pretty sweet bed of white roses and blush roses. They always mix together well don't they? Here's a white musk rose, Mr Betteredge - our old English rose holding up its head along with the best and newest of them') Sergeant Cuff, who may well have been a big inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Holmes' ode to nature in 'The Naval Treaty' appears to be a direct doff of the cap by Conan-Doyle to Collins and Cuff. Cuff is a brilliant detective who uses his intellect and deductive reasoning to solve a case. Cuff is rather enigmatic like Holmes and his investigation of the case is always very gripping. 'He was dressed up in decent black, with a white cravat around his neck,' write Collins of Cuff. 'His face was as sharp as a hatchet, and the skin of it was yellow and dry and as withered as an autumn leaf. His eyes, of a steely grey, had a very disconcerting trick, when they encountered your eyes, of looking as if they expected something more from you than you were aware yourself.'

      The Moonstone is a very descriptive and entertaining novel with some distinctive and memorable characters. The story is also very gripping with some clever twists and turns and develops a real air of mystery. Highly recommended if you've never read it before.

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        24.02.2006 11:57
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        A classic whodunnit

        Introduction
        I've been meaning to read this book for ages, but kept putting it off - I do most of my reading on public transport and so tend to prefer something reasonably light - and a book written in 1868 isn't really my idea of light reading. But as a fan of crime fiction, I felt that I had to read the book that has been classed by many as the first of modern English detective novels and so just finished reading it. It was definitely one of the best books I've read for a long time; not particularly for its crime fiction value, but more for the fabulous writing style and some of the most vivid characters I have come across. What's more, it wasn't anything like as hard to read as I was expecting - I read it in three or four days and didn't once find it hard-going.

        The author
        Wilkie Collins was born in London in 1824. He trained in law, which provided him with a lot of material for his literary career. He became friends with Charles Dickens; the latter produced and acted in two plays written by Collins. Collins is most famous for his novels, however; the most famous of which are The Moonstone and The Woman in White, which is now an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.

        The story
        Everything revolves round a diamond called The Moonstone, stolen from its native India by John Herncastle from under the nose of three guardian priests, specially tasked with guarding it. Despite the fact that, or perhaps because, The Moonstone was believed to bring bad luck to its owner, Sir John bequeathed it to the daughter of his estranged sister, Rachel Verinder, on her eighteenth birthday.

        On Rachel's birthday, there is a house full of guests, including two men that she has shown signs of wanting to marry: Franklin Blake and Godfrey Ablewhite, both of whom are Rachel's cousins, a doctor, a distant relative - Miss Clack, Rachel's mother - Lady Verinder and Mr Murthwaite, a neighbour. All goes well, until the morning after, when it is discovered that the jewel has been stolen from Rachel's sitting room.

        Sergeant Cuff is called in from London to investigate; and finds a house in confusion. Rachel Verinder has locked herself in her room, refusing to speak to anyone, including the man she was considered most likely to marry; Lady Verinder is clearly unwell; and the servants are in uproar, particularly one called Rosanna Spearman, who was a thief in a previous life. The only clue is some smeared paint on a recently painted door - yet there is no item of clothing to match the smear. Why has the diamond had such a strange effect on everyone? And can it be found before the lives of all the innocent people involved are ruined? And who are the three mysterious Indians who are constantly spotted around people that were involved with the diamond?

        The characters
        There are a number of characters that are pivotal to the story; I will give an introduction to the main ones:

        Franklin Blake - cousin to Rachel Verinder and the person she is suspected to have fallen in love with. He is intelligent, having been educated abroad, and is described by other characters in the book as having different personalities depending on whether his French, German, English or Italian sides were uppermost. He does not really come into his own until nearer the end of the book - he is portrayed very much as a nice young man with slightly odd habits that everyone puts down to his foreign education.

        Rachel Verinder - she is a well-educated, well brought up young woman preparing herself for marriage. All the more reason, then, that her sudden personality change once the diamond has been stolen is out of character. She has violent mood swings and changes from a likeable, easy-going young woman to a selfish annoying brat. Her mood changes are particularly vividly portrayed.

        Godfrey Ablewhite - also cousin to Rachel Verinder and seemingly in love with her. He is known as a good sort, spending a lot of his time doing good deeds and charitable work. He comes from a good home; although his mother, Lady Verinder's sister, married below herself. Godfrey is considered to be a nice young man, but there is something slightly creepy about him.

        Sergeant Cuff - the famous detective brought in to solve the crime. Lean and ugly, he scares a number of people in the household with his tough questions. He has a touch of the Sherlock Holmes about him - he sneaks around and acts oddly - all for very good reasons that are totally unclear to everyone else. However, despite his suspicions, he struggles to prove who the thief is.

        Gabriel Betteredge - steward to the household, who is exceptionally loyal to Lady Verinder, Rachel Verinder and Franklin Blake. He tells the first part of the story. His loyalty, although admirable, does prevent him from seeing the truth. He has a kind heart and has a soft spot for one of the servants, Rosanna Spearman.

        Rosanna Spearman - was rescued by Lady Verinder from a reformatory and is ostracised by the other servants. She does well in the house; until Franklin Blake first returns from abroad and she falls deeply in love with him. Her behaviour becomes erratic, particularly after the disappearance of the diamond, and she becomes the chief suspect in the case. Her story is the most touching of all; she is a plain girl with a disabled shoulder who has suffered greatly and unfortunately looks to continue to suffer greatly.

        Ezra Jennings - only comes into the story towards the end of the book, but nevertheless plays a major role. He is of mixed blood and because of his ugliness and a scandal in his past, finds it hard to mix with other people for fear of them discovering his secret. He is probably the easiest person to visualise, described as he is as having 'piebald' hair - one layer of black and one of white. His story is also deeply touching.

        All of the characters were very easy to visualise and easy to either like or dislike according to the way they were portrayed. There is no way, however, to guess who was responsible for the theft of the diamond from the characters - that is something you will just have to wait for. What was most interesting is the way that the story is told over the course of the book by a number of different characters and each character sees the others in a slightly different way. The characters are therefore less one-dimensional than they would otherwise have been.

        Conclusion
        The book was written as a series of manuscripts, letters and diary extracts from the main characters present at varying parts of the story. Rather than hear different views of the whole story from different people, each character describes it up to a certain point. Gabriel Betteredge begins the story and continues for about half of the book, which helps to instil the story into the reader's head before the final half, which is split between several people. I usually find this way of story-telling quite annoying, but it worked in this case, primarily because each document was long enough that it didn't break the continuity; at the same time, when the story-teller came to an end, it was nice to have a change of style. That was one of the best things about this book; it was easy to tell the character of each writer from the way their section was written - the styles changed each time and really helped to build up an opinion of the writer. Perhaps because the characters were telling the story almost as if they were talking, the language was very easy to understand. The characters, as already mentioned, are beautifully portrayed and the format of the book only exacerbated this.

        Collins' novels were in the style of Victorian sensationalism. As such, the key to the story, although a fascinating idea, isn't quite as believable as it could be. To a reader of the time, it probably wasn't beyond the realms of imagination; to a reader of today, with our knowledge, it is. This is the only disappointing part of the book; but even that, taken in the spirit of when it was written, is not much of a disappointment, and it does mean that it is even more difficult to guess how the theft was carried out and by whom.

        All in all, this was a really enjoyable book; it was easy to read, but by the time I had put it down, I felt that I had read something worthwhile, something of literary merit, but without the complicated language of Dickens or some of the Russian authors. Highly recommended, whether you're a fan of crime fiction or simply just like a damn good read.

        The book is available from Amazon for just £1.99! Published by Penguin Books, 464 pages. ISBN: 0140620133

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          22.05.2002 07:21
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          The moonstone is more of a detective story than anything else and is set in the 1840's. The story is about a valuable yellow diamond that was stolen from the forehead of a god. Over the years many people have owned the stone and whoever owns it is said to be cursed. A man comes to own the stone and he bequeaths it to his sisters daughter, Rachel, on her 18th birthday. He knows the stone is cursed and wishes to pass the evil on. Then hours after Rachel has received the Moonstone it disappears and the story goes on to show who stole it and why. The story itself is told from each characters point of view. This gives the series of events from different points of views that give the story an interesting twist. Wilkie Collin's uses this method of story telling very well. The separate accounts do not seem to be simply repeating the content of the previous ones and different accounts enhance the story rather than repeating it. The different accounts show the series of events from different characters point of view and the characters from each other's point of view. Each character has their own style of prose and this gives the characters distinct and developed personalities. The book changes pace throughout so the action takes place at varying speeds, It took me a while to get past the first 50 pages or so because the story doesn't really take off at the beginning but once I found myself in the story the rest of the book went by quite quickly and I was sad to have finished such an entertaining and absorbing story. This is the first book by Wilkie Collins that I have read but I think he wrote many other detective stories too, with The Moonstone being one of the most famous. I found the book enjoyable and quite exciting even though the book is not that fast paced it doesn't seem to drag along. The story changes pace throughout which adds to the overall effect. I enjoyed the different points of view and this definitely added to
          the general interest of the story. Even though lots of information is given throughout the story most of it is circumstantial so I found it impossible to guess whom the thief was before the story revealed it. This story flows well and it is an enjoyable detective story, one I'd recommend to everyone even those who don?t usually read classics. Wilkie Collins was born in 1824 and died in 1889. He is is often referred to as the "grandfather of English detective fiction" and as such can be credited with several "firsts" in plot ideas, some of which are A country house robbery, An "inside job", False suspects and a unexpected final twist in the plot, all of which feature strongly in The Moonstone

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            23.06.2001 22:21
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            Set mostly in 1848 and 49 (and written just 20 years later) The Moonstone is an astonishingly good detective novel, commonly acknowledged to be one of the first ever written. In his preface Mr Collins states that his intention in writing the book was to "trace the influence of character on circumstances". This goal is achieved to perfection through the portrayals of Miss Rachel Verinder, Mr Franklin Blake and the unfortunate Rosanna Spearman. The basic story is that a cursed diamond was stolen from India by General Herncastle who later bequeathed it to Miss Rachel in order to exact revenge on her mother. It was delivered to her on her 18th birthday and was stolen again that very same night. The suspects include the band of indian jugglers who appeared at the house that evening, Rosanna Spearman, a servant and former thief, and Miss Rachel herself whoacts very strangely in regard to the whole affair. To give away more of the plot would not be fair as every turn of events has a bearing on the wholly unexpected outcome. The book is written as narratives and statements of various characterse involved and the suspense is built up as much by what each character cannot tell us as by what they can. Personally I enjoyed all of it bar Miss Clack's narrative which was so well written as to have me hating the woman for her piety. The age of the text is no hindrance to the enjoyment of the story and the language should pose no problems to most modern readers. I thoroughly recommend it and since it is available as a £1 classic, there really is no excuse for not reading the Moonstone.

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              23.02.2001 21:05

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              Considered to be a forerunner to the detective novel genre, the Moonstone will not disappoint you when compare to more recent works such as Agatha Christie novels which i personally find quite entertaining and enjoyable to read. The story revolves around the mysterious disappearance of a magnificent diamond, and attempts to recover it, or at least to find out how and where it went. The book is original, even now, in that it is told through about 10 narratives from a number of people in the story. However, the narratives never repeat one another, barely cover the same periods of time, and are all written in very different styles but nearly all in the first person. Wilkie Collins very cleverly jumps from the character of an ageing, loyal servant to a disfigured doctor's assistant to a devout Christian lady and a retired detective who is obsessed with roses! Never is the story confusing, despite the changes in character. The story sets up the question, who stole the diamond. Then when you find out, it asks how they stole it. and finally, it tells you what happened to it.... ...all very mysterious! Indeed.

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              13.02.2001 20:40
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              Having read a number of ‘classics’, I find it difficult to comprehend why many people do not consider Wilkie Collin’s “The Moonstone” the epitome of the ‘genre’. After all, it has all the ingredients for a classic literary feast, and is indeed worthy of being identified as a timeless and elegant masterpiece. Set in Victorian times, the vivacious and effervescent descriptions allow the reader to fully submerge him/her-self in the traditions, conventions and principles of the period. He/she learns the to adopt, whilst reading “The Moonstone”, a different manner of thinking so as to sympathise with, empathize with, pass judgement on, or condemn characters as the Author intends. It really is ingeniously crafted, and readers might find themselves adopting Victorian attitudes in their approach to the characters and the situations in which they find themselves. Indeed “The Moonstone” fluently exposes the social mores of the era. The synopsis is quite simple: in essence, a detective novel - the Moonstone, a brilliantly luminous but cursed diamond, is presented to Rachel on her 18th birthday and is promptly stolen. Who filched this fabulous gift? However, we are faced here with a mystery which is nothing like the usual whodunit tale; because throughout the story the reader is furnished with the sensation of actually being the detective attempting to solve the crime. Although, the events surrounding the acquisition, presentation to Rachel and subsequent theft of the Moonstone are told by a number of characters, the novel does not shape up to be a Victorian literary version of “Groundhog Day”; this is extremely refreshing and most pleasantly surprising. Each account is extremely individual and wonderfully illustrates the storyteller’s character and how he or she views the other characters. In addition, Collins seems to effortlessly adjust the pace and wri
              ting style according to the each personage. There is so much more to this novel than meets the eye and the final twist is beautifully narrated to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together in a seamless moment leaving the reader almost breathless. There are a number of themes presented in the shape of the petty vanities and various other attributes of some characters and also in their interaction with one another. These themes, love, betrayal, hatred, etc, are exceedingly well portrayed by the description of characters’ actions, rather than pointless over emotional verbiage, hence the pace, whilst not speedy is definitely far from lethargic. This makes Collins (and “The Moonstone” in particular) even more pleasurable to read and not as difficult to interpret as, for example, Jane Austin or Thomas Hardy – both of whom occasionally delve into rambling depictions of emotions. There are only two slight flaws: Firstly, the (albeit) brief portrayal of the Hindus from whom the diamond was originally stolen and the Muslims who originally stole it, is perhaps a little detrimental; whilst the British, who then snatched the diamond from the Muslims are portrayed in an extremely righteous fashion. Although this does not in anyway diminish Collins’ masterful storytelling, it is a noteworthy point. Secondly, the climax, although exciting might be considered by many a reader as too circumstantial, as much of the evidence is (although readily available to the characters) not presented until it’s almost too late. However, this may be the device Collins uses to keep her ending as electrifying as possible, and besides, it does prevent any sure guesses as to the identity of the guilty party. “The Moonstone” comes highly recommended for those who enjoy reading classics or detective novels or stories from the Victorian period. More than just a spectator watching events unfold, the reader i
              s made to feel he/she is a principle participant in the story – Collins’ greatest achievement in the telling of this tale. It is almost like a test: Will you pass? Are you a worthy detective?!

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                24.07.2000 19:41
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                I certainly would not have thought that this was a classic by any accounts. This Victorian Era detective novel is a fun read and it definitely encapsulates the attitudes and social customs of that time. I certainly didn’t become enthralled by the book and it was more to do with the fact thtat I was on holiday’s at the time that I even finished it. I've read some of the Sherlock Holmes stories and this is written in a similar vein to those books.

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                  01.07.2000 23:46
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                  There are quite a few classics that I consider among my ‘favourites’, and this is definitely one that appears near the top of the list. It is a detective novel that is so gripping that I did nothing else but read it continuously and finished it in one day. I have never read a book that is comparable in its ability to intrigue you and compel you on to the end. The plot: The moonstone was a yellow diamond that was set into the forehead of an Indian god, had been stolen from the Hindus by Muslim invaders, and then stolen again by the British. The legend was that anyone who had it in their possession would be cursed. On her 18th birthday Rachel is given the Moonstone by her uncle (a nasty man who knows it’s cursed and wants to bring ruin on his sister’s family). The very same night, after her birthday party, the Moonstone disappears, and the rest of the story concerns the mystery of who stole it. The story is told as if each of the people involved has been asked to set down on paper the events they were directly involved in, as a means of recording the strange episode. It is very cleverly done and you really get the feel of each of the different characters, not only from inside their own minds but also through the eyes of the others. (Collins also used this method in ‘The Woman in White’). The mystery is only unravelled at the end, and the originality and imagination of the author is absolutely outstanding. Wilkie Collins was, apparently, a good friend of Charles Dickens and they collaborated on several stories together, so if you like Dickens, you’ll love Collins. Personally, although I love his work, I sometimes find Dickens’s descriptive passages a little too heavy and long-winded for my liking. In contrast, The Moonstone just flows throughout and is a real pleasure to read. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Some people are put off by classics as they consider them boring
                  , but this book would appeal to anyone who likes a really good ‘whodunnit’, and believe me you’ll have trouble guessing who the culprit was.

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