On rereading The Moonstone

I’m SO close to finishing Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone that I will have no trouble finishing it tonight before I drop off to sleep. My mystery book group is discussing the book tomorrow, so I’m finishing it just in time. I believe this will be the third time I’ve read the novel. I think I read it first as a teenager, grabbing it off my dad’s shelf of classics. I read it again sometime in my twenties probably, just for the fun of it. This time around, it was my pick for the book group; we had been talking about the possibility of reading it for a while, so I decided that it was finally time. I think many people in the group had already read it, so it will be a reread for a lot of us. I’m looking forward to hearing what other people thought.

My memories of my previous experiences reading The Moonstone are a little vague (I wasn’t blogging back then and so don’t have a record — alas), but I do recall enjoying the book’s multiple perspectives a lot. In fact, that’s what struck me most strongly during my first reading, and I remember thinking that I wanted to read other books with similar structures and that that structure would probably remain a favorite of mine, which it has. If you haven’t read it, The Moonstone has multiple narrators who pick up the thread of the story when they have something important to contribute. These narrators often respond to each other and disagree with each other. The first two narrators are particularly entertaining, as they are strong characters with amusing quirks who happen to dislike each other severely, and it’s funny when they tell you not to believe a word of what the other says. I also like how these multiple narrators allow you to see many of the characters both inside and outside. We get to hear Gabriel Betteredge, the first narrator, explaining how important Robinson Crusoe is to him, which he does with such enthusiasm we almost come to agree with him and go look for a copy of the novel ourselves, and we also get to see a different character completely bewildered at the fact that Betteredge is pushing Defoe at him as a source of wisdom on par with the Bible. It’s all a lot of fun.

I enjoyed the multiple narrators this time around too, but I noticed Collins’s wonderful sense of humor even more. His characters are just so entertaining. There’s Betteredge with his Crusoe obsession, his digressions, his strong opinions, his dignity combined with his failure to notice or to comment when Franklin Blake treats him rudely. And there’s Miss Clack with her tracts and intrusiveness and insatiable curiousity disguised as piety. The scene when she watches from behind the curtains as Rachel and Godfrey Ablewhite get engaged, watching while pretending not to, is classic comedy.

I’m not entirely sure I want to read this book again; perhaps I’ll change my mind, but I feel right now as though I’ve gotten what I can out of it, and I’d like to move on and read other Wilkie Collins novels. But three good experiences reading any novel is a pretty good record, I think.

12 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction

12 responses to “On rereading The Moonstone

  1. I’m just now reading The Woman in White and was just thinking how nice it was to have the “accounts of what happened” told from different characters. So it sounds like when I finally get to the Moonstone (because I will!) I’ll have that to look forward to as well. Hope you have fun at book group and let us know what everyone thought.

  2. Must add this to my list — you make it sound delightful!

  3. Ann

    Have you read ‘The Woman in White’, Dorothy, because that is superb? But Collins wrote some other magnificent books that often get overlooked. Try ‘Armadale’ or ‘No Name’ both of which explore rather murky areas of the England of Victoria.
    I also enjoy narratives with more than one narrative voice but I remember the first time I read ‘The Moonstone’ getting so attached to each of the narrators as I was reading their section that I was really angry when the voice changed. Being ready for that the second time round I think enabled me to enjoy other aspects of the book more, as you have clearly found with the humour. I don’t know if they’re available in the US, but there have been a couple of very good televised versions made in the UK – well worth looking out for.

  4. You know, I thought I’d read this, but I haven’t. I’m thinking of The Woman In White, which I read when I was 17 (so the details are really hazy!). This sounds wonderful and I really must pick up a copy of it soon.

  5. It was VERY funny, wasn’t it? Got any other good recommendations of works with multiple narrators?

  6. I’ve read both this one and The Woman in White and liked them both. I’ve been meaning to reread The Woman in White for a while now. (I liked it a little better than the Moonstone.) He handles the multiple narrators so well.

  7. “I had discovered Myself as the Thief”–what a great moment! I love this book too. One of its more brilliant features is the way none of the English characters really questions whether the diamond belonged to Rachel at all, though we (the readers) are given a much wider perspective on the problem of legitimate ownership and theft, in the context of imperialism. Betteredge is the most lovable literary misogynist I know, and isn’t Limping Lucy a great character too? So many treats all in one package.

  8. Oh I had no idea! I’ve been meaning to read a Wilkie Collins book for ages but have yet to do so. I thought I might get to him this summer but still didn’t manage. There is always this fall though and after that, winter! ;)

  9. I such tenderness toward Gabriel Betteredge and his Robinson Crusoe obsession! Oh, you brought back so many lovable moments of this novel, Dorothy. I’ve only read it once, but fairly recently, and I look forward to revisiting it down the road, when the details will have dimmed a bit and I can rediscover them. I remember being struck by issues of ownership and imperialism, as well – I thought Collins did a good job of raising those questions without letting them take over the story.

  10. Um, that should be “feel such tenderness.” Apparently I just get too excited when writing about Gabriel Betteredge…

  11. I love Wilkie Collins and must second Ann’s suggestion about reading Armadale and The Woman in White. I read The Moonstone several years ago and had forgotten all about Robinson Crusoe, so this post brought it all back. I do remember Miss Clack and her religious tracts. I’m all for rereading a good book, but you’re right there are still lots of good books by Wilkie to explore! I hope you share your book group experience as well!

  12. Iliana — I’ve read The Woman in White, but I’m afraid I’ve entirely forgotten what happened — which means I need to reread it of course!

    Debby — oh, it is. It’s a “classic” that reminds you of how much fun classics can be.

    Ann — I do remember feeling some shock the first time around when the narrators switched. Half of my book group had already read the novel, and I think the people who reread it liked it even more the second time around, so the lesson seems to be that reread is worth while when it comes to Collins’s work. I’ve read The Woman in White, but as I said to Iliana, I’m in need of a reread at some point. I also have Armadale on my shelves, so that’s another possibility too.

    Litlove — it’s well-worth picking up! Victorian melodramatic fiction is just so much fun. I wish I could remember The Woman in White better — it’s distressing when the details get hazy!

    Emily Barton — uh, yeah. Now my mind has gone blank and I’m not coming up with any more examples. I’ll have to get back to you on that!

    Teresa — if you liked The Woman in White better, I’ll definitely have to reread it! Unless I read Armadale first … we’ll see.

    Rohan — it is pretty amazing the way they track the Indians back to India to get the diamond back without any worry that it might be theft on their part. But yeah, the frame narrative puts that blindness in a larger perspective.

    Stefanie — oh, yes, there’s plenty of time! I’m curious to see which Collins book you will pick up when you get there.

    Emily — the Robinson Crusoe obsession is great, and in our book group meeting, we pulled out a copy of RC and picked a passage at random, and it had a very meaningful message for us! It was about escape and could refer to all kinds of things :)

    Danielle — I did write a little about the book group, although I forgot to mention the Robinson Crusoe incident I described to Emily. It was a great meeting, as usual. Miss Clack is very memorable, isn’t she?

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