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That's not my opinion. That's Dorothy Sayers' verdict, the woman who gave us Lord Peter Wimsey. But more on that later.
I suppose you could read this novel as a critique of British Imperialism: the fabled Indian gem, the “Jewel in the Crown” if you will, becomes the source of scandal, revenge, ruined reputations and general unhappiness. Obviously, everyone is better off without it.
Or you could take the social justice angle. For all his faithful service, Gabriel Betteredge admits that those above stairs have the freedom to express emotions which those below stairs dare not reveal. The fisherman’s daughter, Limping Lucy, goes proto-feminist/socialist when she conceives that a young gentleman of quality has made poor Rosanna Spearman the plaything of an idle hour.
Nah. Why ruin a good thing by going all PC/intellectual/lit-crit? Better to stick with T. S. Eliot. The Moonstone is, "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels...in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe". Or Dorothy Sayers: "probably the very finest detective story ever written". Or me: this is one of the most delightful, engaging and engrossing books you’ll ever hear.
As indicated by Old Possum, Poe has his partisans. But whoever wrote the Wikipedia article on Moonstone has it right. Collins introduced all the elements that would become standard fare in mystery tales until, I’m guessing, the advent of the hard-boiled school:
A country house setting
The inside job
Bungling local cops
A celebrated, skilled investigator
A large cast of false suspects
A least likely suspect
A reconstruction of the crime
The final, bravura plot twist
Because this first and best of all detective stories was written in the 1860’s, Moonstone is a fabulous composite. First, you get a full-blooded Victorian novel, with all the attractions the best of that breed of literature has to offer: elaborately crafted writing, intersecting story lines, living characters, engaging observations, wit, pathos, charm. Then, on top of all that, we have the country house, the bungling local constable, the false suspects, the red herrings and a perplexing mystery, one that I bet you’re not going to be able to crack before the final revelation.
As usual, the Naxos recording is superb. The full cast includes some of my favorite readers. And, given the way Collin’s constructed his novels—at least the two I’m now familiar with—a full cast is essential. The story is carried along by sequential narrators each keeping strictly to what they knew at the time of which they write. Each of their narratives deserves a voice actor dedicated to that part, giving it his or her all. As these different testimonies correlate or conflict, echoing and reverberating against each other, we get multiple points of view on almost every major character. The result is three-dimensional portraits that live and breathe.
While I don’t know a lot about Wilkie Collins I do know that he took laudanum (opium) to treat gout. Predictably, the treatment became an addiction and, after the death of his mentor Dickens in 1870, helped grease the skids of a general decline in Collins’ health and the quality of his literary output. In that light, the part laudanum plays in The Moonstone—and the descriptions of the effect of the drug on a man’s senses—make for some particularly solemn listening.
Final note: a story this long and complex is a special challenge as an audiobook. You can’t flip back through the last 300-some-odd pages to refresh your memory on details. But never fear. When previous testimony is alluded to, a note indicates the chapter in which that testimony appears. Don’t know if this was Collins’ doing or if the editors of this audiobook decided to leave us these helpful guideposts, but they are invaluable. Certainly not every point is covered, but the critical ones are.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to The Moonstone again? Why?
I read this when I was a teenager. This production is excellent. You just need to get thru the first 45 minutes, which seems a little tedious at first, but sets the scene and tone for the rest of book, which becomes increasingly engaging.
Well with the investment. Thanks to those who produced it (including Wilkie Collins :)
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
Extremely well narrated throughout with one very very minor error (in my opinion). Betteridge's accent was not noticeably a regional accent which makes sense given his circumstances. However, when it comes to his daughter Penelope her accent, as quoted by 2 of the narrators, is markedly Yorkshire which does not make sense! As I say a very minor objection as her words are only spoken a couple of times. Apologies for being pedantic!
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
The story is absorbing, but the real joys here are wonderfully drawn characters of the different narrators - especially the obnoxious and un-self aware hypocrite Miss Clack, and the lovable and loyal Betteridge.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Great classic story with detective twist. I love Wilkie Collins. Beautifully performed, every narrator was clear (which is important for me as English is my second language) and theatrical. That's the audio book I'll listen again and again.