The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins: Clever, Tightly Plotted Mystery

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Rating: Red StarRed StarRed Star

Category: Crime Fiction, Classics, Mystery/Adventure

Content Warnings: Suicide, death of a loved one, terminal illness, poverty, drug abuse, misogyny, racism and xenophobia, colonialism.

Synopsis: A diamond is stolen from one of the most sacred shrines in India. A young lady receives an extravagant birthday present in the will of her deceased Uncle. A London philanthropist is attacked in what seems to be a case of mistaken identity.

Connecting all of these events is the superstition surrounding the diamond: that it will leave a trail of blood in the lives of all those in possession of it. As inexplicable events plague the family holding the mysterious heirloom, Franklin Blake seeks to record witness testimonies and find a rational cause for the occurrences.

The family and their connections each contribute their version of events, but suspicions are rife and nobody knows who to trust. Not even the reader…

Review:

First Page Impressions

You’ll be finding a plethora of crime fiction on the blog in the next few weeks as it’s on my required reading list for a university module! What do you immediately associate with the crime fiction genre? Something fast-paced and dramatic, right?

Me too. Which is why I was initially surprised at the slow, winding structure of The Moonstone. Later, however, I would come to appreciate that the intricate plot does require a pretty detailed establishment.

Even before the first page, this book’s cover showcases the Indian settings that frame the story. Collins may have intended to make the novel seem interesting and ‘exotic’, but the undercurrent of colonialism creates a more unsettling impression today.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins Book Review Pinterest Graphic

Final Page Reflections

I admired the genuinely unpredictable plot that Collins has constructed, using careful research to make the story realistic. Some people can be frustrated by plural narrators, but personally, I found this helped to hold my interest. Having said that, the ‘testimony’ of each narrator could have been shorter to quicken the action.

By the time I had finished, the margins of my copy had ‘unreliable narrator?’ scrawled all over them! Presented with contradicting stories, unsure who to believe, readers are encouraged to engage in the story to an unprecedented extent.

Mood

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins Word Cloud

Diversity and Representation

English imperialism and superiority complexes are at the core of The Moonstone and can make the modern reader cringe. Misogyny is also rampant:

“It isn’t their fault (poor wretches!) that they act first and think afterwards; it’s the fault of the fools who humour them.”

Despite this, I questioned the extent to which Collins critiques these prejudices through the hypocrisy of his characters.

The Moonsatone by Wilkie Collins Quote
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Themes

  • Private sphere and public sphere
  • Gender roles
  • Colonialism
  • Meaning of civilisation
  • Class
  • Religion
  • Illness and death
  • Love

Beyond the Book

In The Moonstone, curiosity about crime is often perceived as morbid; characters appear ashamed to admit to it. Some even associate such curiosity with disease:

“Do you feel an uncomfortable heat at the pit of your stomach, sir? And a nasty thumping at the top of your head? Ah! Not yet? It will lay hold of you… I call it the detective fever.”

I couldn’t help considering the parallels with today’s society. Crime fiction and true crime are frequently perceived as crude, morbid or voyeuristic.

Nevertheless, both real and fictional crime have always fascinated us, revealing the rawest elements of human nature that lie beneath our carefully constructed society. So why do we wish it didn’t?

Continued Contemplation

  1. I have previously mentioned the disquieting racism, xenophobia and misogyny encountered in the pages of The Moonstone. How far can we, or should we, enjoy a piece of literature as a ‘classic’ despite its deeply problematic aspects?
  2. There is a plurality of narrators throughout the novel, but equally many characters are never given a voice in this way. Do you think the narrators reflect the balance of power in the book’s world?
  3. A couple of weeks ago I reviewed The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes is a ‘lone wolf’ detective and a genius, whereas Sergeant Cuff in The Moonstone is more fallible. Are you able to connect more with a detective character that is flawed and not above making mistakes, or do you prefer the traditional heroic type?

Favourite quote:

“They seem to be in a conspiracy to persecute you,” she said. “What does it mean?”

“Only the protest of the world, Miss Verinder — on a very small scale — against anything that is new.”

Read if: You like the sound of a classic mystery that is clever and tightly plotted.

Buy Now on Better World Books:

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If you enjoyed The Moonstone, you may also like The Hound of the Baskervilles (Sherlock Holmes #5) by Arthur Conan Doyle.


Have you read The Moonstone or any other crime fiction classics? Do you think we should read older literature in spite of its prejudiced and problematic aspects? Let me know in the comments – I would love to hear from you!


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17 thoughts on “The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins: Clever, Tightly Plotted Mystery

  1. You raise a very valid question about the prejudice, racism, etc. in some classics. I don’t have the answer. Presumably it depends on how bad it is. I can to some extent tolerate these aspects, because I know the world was very different when the classics were written. The opening paragraph in Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana made me jump in my seat, but it didn’t ruin my reading experience. Great post and great discussion topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for the comment! I agree that the issue of prejudice in classics is a very difficult one. It definitely depends on how extreme it is in the writing, also I think on the reader too and their own experiences. I don’t have an answer either and am really keen to discuss other people’s views, so thank you for sharing yours! X

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of THE MOST THOROUGH reviews I have ever read! REALLY! You have explained every aspect of the novel brilliantly and I LOVE YOU FOR THAT becaus I was actually looking to read Moonstone and yours is the first review I have read of it and I AM SO GOAD THAT I DID!! 🥰😍😍🤩🤩🤩 loved it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thank you so much RAIN, I can’t stop smiling reading your comment!!! ❤️ I hope the review helps you decide whether to read it or not. It’s pretty long but very gripping and unpredictable, plus it’s really interesting to read what’s widely viewed as the first crime fiction novel! X

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 😘😘❤️❤️ well, what can I say hon, it REALLY WAS AN AMAZING REVIEWWW!! 😍❤️❤️

        It did!! I HAVE DECIDED TO READ IT NOW, alll thanks to youuuu!! ❤️❤️❤️

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The criticism of used language and overtly xenophobe characters made me think of the modern crusaders who criticized the work of Mark Twain because of the way he described the afro americans in his books. Subsequently the new editions of his books have been censored by the publishers, and as a consequence don’t reflect anymore the authentic spirit of the people living in that era. And anyone who accuses Mark Twain of racism, is living in a different dimension and has never done the effort to read further than the “ni**er”word.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the comment. Censorship is such a complex issue, but I agree with your point about the threat of altering historical context. Surely if we censor these works, we are trying to deny that such views and prejudices ever existed, which is equally problematic?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The Moonstone has been published in 1868 and the characters of the book very much reflect the way people thought and acted at that time. If you look upon this work with a contemporary mindset, it can indeed hurt your feelings, but how in heavens name can a novelist set down a racist protagonist who doesn’t use any racist slur or hasn’t a superiority complex? There is nothing wrong with comparative criticism, but we cannot let derail it by the hurt of a collective subconscious survivor’s guilt. Just like blacking out some words in an effort to deny they’ve ever existed or been used by our ancestors.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you once again for sharing your views, I welcome debate and discussion on my blog. I think ‘collective subconscious survivor’s guilt’ is a very good way of phrasing the feeling that makes us want to deny that these views ever existed, particularly when it makes us confront our own privilege. I hope you did not feel that my edit to ‘beep’ your use of the n-word was in any way personal, nor do I wish to deny that such a word existed and contributed to oppression. However, this word is being reclaimed by the black community and, since I am outside this community, I wish to relinquish decision making about how and when it is ‘okay’ to use the word in full. As part of this, I ensure my blog content ‘beeps’ offensive terms of this type when using them for descriptive purposes. I hope this makes the situation clearer and thank you for your understanding.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you once again for sharing your views, I welcome debate and discussion on my blog. I think ‘collective subconscious survivor’s guilt’ is a very good way of phrasing the feeling that makes us want to deny that these views ever existed, particularly when it makes us confront our own privilege. I hope you did not feel that my edit to ‘beep’ your use of the n-word was in any way personal, nor do I wish to deny that such a word existed and contributed to oppression. However, this word is being reclaimed by the black community and, since I am outside this community, I wish to relinquish decision making about how and when it is ‘okay’ to use the word in full. As part of this, I ensure my blog content ‘beeps’ offensive terms of this type when using them for descriptive purposes. I hope this makes the situation clearer and thank you for your understanding.

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  5. I read The Moonstone another lifetime ago and recall enjoying the story – though I’m guessing these days I would find aspects of the story xenophobic and racist. I’ve been listening to The Defintive Collection of Sherlock Holmes narrated by Stephen Fry and while I’ve been really enjoying the plotting and some of the clever characterisation – I’ve been dismayed by the racist comments sprinkled throughout reserved for anyone who wasn’t white.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for sharing your views! I agree that it can really jar our enjoyment of the story when prejudice like this occurs. It’s interesting that you didn’t notice these problematic aspects when you were younger, I’ve had similar experiences with books I read at a young age. Perhaps we just didn’t understand, or we were innocent and couldn’t believe any wrongdoing of our favourite authors! X x x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it was more simple than that – society in general was far more sexist and racist back in those days. And I was less aware of these faultlines, being younger and less informed…xx

        Liked by 1 person

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