Thursday, April 14, 2011
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
When Rachael Verinder receives the infamous Moonstone, an enormous yellow diamond of almost mystical beauty, she has no idea of what's to come. Her uncle had absconded with it as part of war plunder years before, but even before that the diamond had a deadly reputation. Ever since it was first stolen from a Hindu idol, the diamond has left nothing but bloodshed in it's wake. On the very evening she received the diamond, it's stolen once again. Rachael believes that Franklin Blake, her intended, is the one who stole it. He isn't the only suspect though. Maybe it's Franklin's rival for Rachael's affection, Godfrey Ablewhite. It may even be the three mysterious Brahmins that have been spotted more than once. Regardless of who it is, the diamond will take at least one more life before the story is told.
This was my second attempt at reading this book, an attempt made necessary but my utter failure to get through it the first time. I'm not sure what my hangup was last year, but I was bored the entire time I had the book open. My mind kept wandering around and no amount of self pressure could get me past about page 185 of a 472 page book. Despite my failure, I was sure this was a book that I would enjoy if given the right time. Well this year, Bev at My Reader's Block is hosting a Vintage Mystery Challenge. I thought why not give it another attempt. I'm glad to say, my patience paid off.
What struck me as a rather tedious narrative of a mundane jewel robbery, turned into a majestically told story that took me on a ride that was anything but tedious. The book is told with the voices of 11 different individuals who were tasked to sit down and write everything they personally experienced that had connection to the missing Moonstone. These narratives are written well after the case has been resolved, I almost said solved but I'm not sure that would be an accurate word. The narrators are only allowed to tell what they personal witnessed though they do try every once in a while to sneak some other information in there as well. They chide themselves for it, but since the words are already written down, the information is out there. With 11 different voices, some narratives shorter than others, the story reflects the individuals personal biases and personal feelings on what happened. It's through those personal reflections that the true story of what happened is told. It's one thing to write down the events in the order they happened, it's quite a different take to get what those involved were actually thinking and reflecting on at the time.
For me, because of the narrative style used to tell the story, I felt this was more about the people involved and how they related to each other more than the actual mystery of what happened to the diamond. I enjoyed getting to know the characters not only by what they have to say for themselves, but what others have to say about them. There is an interesting back and forth between a few of them that allowed me to get even further insight into what they really think of each other. This was, for me, a character study as much as a mystery tale.
As for the mystery itself, it's a mundane event. A diamond is stolen on the night the new owner first received it. What drives and even confuses the mystery, is the way Rachael reacts to the theft. She is truly devastated but does everything she can to not cooperate with the investigation. She throws roadblock after roadblock in the way of the investigator. The impediments she dolls out does the job, the investigator gives up and walks away. It's only after almost a year has gone by that certain individuals take it upon themselves to find out what really happened.
The conclusion of the mystery and the discovery of who really did steal the Moonstone is a rather interesting one. Don't worry though, I won't spoil the surprise for anyone wanting to read it. What I do want to say it that though I'm not sure how believable the solution is, I found the discovery of it to be rather entertaining and almost more fun than the solution itself. I'm really not sure if the explanation would work in reality, but it fits the bill nicely.
I'm proud of myself for finally finishing this one, from the beginning once again, but I'm even happier for what I discovered. It's a brilliant novel, that despite its flaws, proves to me that great storytelling really does survive the generations. I will be looking forward to the time I decide to pick this off the shelf and delve into once again.
Challenges: M&S, VM