BOOK REVIEW: THE MOONSTONE

The Moonstone was called 'the first and the greatest of English detective novels' by T.S. Eliot.

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The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone laid the foundation of detective fiction in English Literature.

Author: Wilkie Collins

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Publication Date: 12 August 2012 (Originally published in book form in 1868)

Pages: 560

Language: English

Country: England

Rating: 3/5

 “This is a miserable world”, says the Sergeant. “Human life, Mr. Betteredge, is a sort of target –misfortune is always firing at it, and always hitting the mark”.” 

The book review of The Moonstone was particularly a little hard to write. The Moonstone was called ‘the first and the best of modern English detective novel’ by T. S. Eliot. It certainly laid the foundation of detective fiction but it isn’t the best.

The tale begins when a beautiful heiress, Rachel Verinder, inherits a fabulous yellow diamond (The Moonstone). Outside her Yorkshire home, three mysterious Indian jugglers (believed to be part of a cult of Hindu priests who are pledged to protect the diamond) are waiting to reclaim their ancient talisman. When the Moonstone disappears from Rachel’s bedroom the case looks simple but appearance can be deceptive. No one is what them seem and nothing can be taken for granted.

I had a love-hate relationship with The Moonstone, while I was reading it. I was intrigued by the plot because of the reference to India in its story line and also because I love Collins’ work. On the other hand I felt that the novel’s length is its chief and perhaps, only major failing. Large parts of the novel seem to drag on with minor advancements being made to the plot in process.

The Moonstone has quite a few interesting characters though. Gabriel Betteredge, chief servant to the Verinder household, comes across as a funny narrator. He is steadfastly devoted to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, a book he revers as much as the Bible. It would be interesting to note that Collins immensely enjoyed Robinson Crusoe and read it often, just like Betteredge. Another memorable character is Drusilla Clack, Rachel Verinder’s cousin. I can imagine Collins having a ball making Miss Clack one of the most judgmental, meddlesome and conservative Christian in English Literature. The passages, where Miss Clack goes about placing religious texts in the family household, in the hope that Lady Verinder would chance upon them, are extremely funny.

Betteredge and Miss Clack are so compelling that every other character pales in comparison. Rachel Verinder, despite being the main character, isn’t well-developed because she never takes over the narration of the story. The mysterious Hindu priests should have also had more role in the novel. Their back story is interesting but they should have had a stronger presence in The Moonstone. The novel is focused more on the characters and their understanding of the world. If you read solely for the mystery then you’ll be disappointed.

The Moonstone, altogether, is not so horrible. Yes, it has long explanations, unnecessary side story lines and a lot of repetition but it also has great characterisation, something which is lacking in a lot of novels. The Moonstone is not worth rushing forth to read, but I wouldn’t dismiss it altogether.