An Inside Job

The Moonstone (Evergreens) - Wilkie Collins

I had no idea that this book existed until my bookclub decided to make it the book of the month. In fact I had never heard of Wilkie Collins until this book was mentioned in passing. As it turns out (or at least according to some of the members of my bookclub) Wilkie lived under the shadow of Charles Dickens. In fact Wilkie and Dickens were good friends, that is until they had a falling out, and Dickens went out of his way to trash the works of Wilkie (and vice versa – I guess we can work out who won). I'm not really all that sure of any of the details beyond that, namely because I can't be bothered looking it up, even though this statement seems to be based upon a rumour that I heard from another person. The other thing about Wilkins, and this book in particular, was that I had some trouble finding it in a bookshop and ended up having to order it in, only to wander into a secondhand bookshop a week later to see a copy of this book, and Woman in White sitting on the shelf – it always happens like that.

 

So, the Moonstone is about this huge diamond that is stolen from India and finds its way to England and into the possession of a wealthy young lady (who inherited it from her uncle, who had originally stolen it from India). On her eighteenth birthday party she proudly wears it, but later that night it goes missing, and suddenly the mystery as to what happened to the diamond and who stole it begins. However, unlike most detective stories that I have read, where the mystery is pretty much solved within 24 to 48 hours of it happening, it isn't and everybody goes home. However, a year later the hunt for the diamond begins again in ernst and the mystery is eventually solved, though not as we would expect it to be solved.

 

Apparently The Moonstone is the first ever detective novel, though there was a discussion as to whether Wilkie or Poe were the first to write in this specific style of genre (apparently Poe was first, but because his story was a short story Wilkie is attributed to having the first full length novel). However the interesting thing is that it doesn't necessarily set the standard for how the genre developed in the future, though as I have said numerous times in the past, the detective novel, or even crime fiction, isn't a genre that really catches my attention. I have tried to read Agatha Christie, and despite really enjoying And Then There Were None I wasn't able to get into any of the other novels of hers that I read (though I'll probably try a couple more but I am not rushing out to do so). As for Doyle, as I have also previously mentioned, while at first I really enjoyed Sherlock Holmes, as the series dragged on I become less and less enthralled with the character and the stories.

 

The thing is that in my mind the idea of the detective fiction is that it is a game between the author and the reader to see if they can actually solve the problem before everything is revealed at the end, however my Dad, who is an avid reader of the genre, suggests that this generally isn't the case. For instance the Butler never, ever actually does it, and if he does it is generally considered to be so clichéd that the book is tossed into the recycling bin before anybody else can pick it up and have their intelligence insulted. As for Agatha Christie, my Dad suggests that her conclusions are so contrived that it is almost impossible to work it out (for instance in one of the books it turned out that everybody did it, though I still hold to my theory that Miss Marple is the real criminal, it is just that she is so clever at being able to throw the scent off the trail and pin the crime onto somebody else that she is never ever suspected, let alone caught).

 

Mind you, when I read a detective novel I generally give up trying to solve the problem pretty quickly, namely because that isn't the reason why I read – if I wanted to solve problems I would go and try debugging computer programs, or even write my own, or have an extended session on Duolingo – to me novels aren't designed to solve problems, but rather to open up one's mind to other possibilities, and to explore these possibilities through sites like Goodreads, or even my own blog. The other thing is that I suspect this style of detective fiction is rather new and wasn't the way that the original authors of the genre intended it to be.

 

The other thing about The Moonstone is that it was surprisingly amusing, which also baffled me because I never considered classical literature to actually be funny. Mind you, they probably are quite amusing, it is just that the style of humour, and the subtle references, are something that we generally wouldn't understand. Okay, I have known, and even done so myself, people who have burst out laughing at the plays of Aristophanes, and I also note that we have a few Roman comedies available, however it seems as if for quite a while most pieces of literature were actually quite serious, but then again we do have Shakespeare so I guess I am just talking rubbish again.

 

The really amusing thing about this book was the character who swore by the book Robinson Crusoe, which I have to admit does have a tendency to poke fun at those of us who happen to be religious. In fact sometimes I wonder myself at the absurdity of putting one's faith in the writings of a group of people that lived thousands of years ago. In fact a lot of people completely write off the writings of the ancients in that as far as they are concerned, if it was written over a thousand years ago then it has absolutely no application to the world today. Personally, I would disagree, though I guess the whole idea of basing one's life around Robinson Crusoe is that there is a difference between somebody who simply blindly follows a religious text, and those who go out of their way to completely debunk the text only to discover that no matter how hard they try the text stands up to scrutiny. Mind you, this does eventually come down to the way that you go about debunking the text.

 

As for basing your life around Robinson Crusoe, well, I'm sure it is possible, but I'm not really going to give it a try. Maybe I'll just stick with Mr Men (though I hope I haven't lost the one that I thought I put in my bag this morning).

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1938970519