The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
One of the primary examples of the early detective novel, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone is a mystery that tests the limits of reason and imagination. Told through a series of witness accounts, the novel plays with multiple narrative voices, while also exploring the varied ways in which several individuals perceive the same event.
Beginning with the story of the Moonstone and its violent removal from its native India, the narrative can be read as a tale of colonialism and conquest, the Moonstone’s presence introducing a foreign element amidst the members of Lady Verinder’s home when it is delivered by her nephew, Franklin Blake. While I was reading, I kept coming up with all the ways that I could have written about this novel if I had read it in grad school; luckily, I get to be brief and enjoy myself while writing about books now 🙂 . Unlike when I read The Woman in White, I did not feel completely absorbed by the story of the Moonstone until I was about halfway through the first narrative, told at Franklin Blake’s request by Lady Verinder’s faithful servant, Mr. Betteredge. When the “detective fever” came upon Mr. Betteredge, it suddenly came upon me as well.
Was it a difficult puzzle to solve? Not at all; it almost reminded me of Bleak House–the suspicious characters were a little too suspicious to be anything but the actual suspects. That is not to say that there isn’t some depth to the mystery, this is a multi-layered novel after all and there are several stories that merge before the mystery is resolved. Rachel Verinder’s adamant refusal to take part in the search for her stolen diamond was at times more intriguing than the actual case of the lost diamond. Her motivation eluded me throughout the story until she presented her account (as retold by Mr. Blake). At first, I found Rachel’s actions irrational and annoying, but soon I came to see that the real story was part of her silence.
One of the things that I most loved about the novel was Collins’s ability to imbue his characters with original and highly individual voices. Each narrative is vivid and distinct in its portrayal of the narrator in question; from Mr. Betteredge to Mr. Jennings, the reader gets to know each narrator’s biases and foibles.