Thursday, October 22, 2009

I love sensational fiction

I finally finished Wilkie Collins's sensational novel, The Woman in White, after two long weeks. And it was one of the best two weeks of this year ever. I wasn't prepared for the scope that Collins has laid out for his reader with this novel, which has replaced The Moonstone as my favorite Collins's work.

Halfway through the novel, I felt that The Woman in White had far too many elements, and I feared that these may not come together in the end, resulting in a loose narrative. But Collins pulled it off, and he did so elegantly! Even the minor subplots have their own significance in the story. The effect is that you feel you've read a novel that's carefully and meticulously planned.

Told in an epistolary fashion, The Woman in White has several characters that Collins use to tell the story. He begins with Walter Hartwright, an arts teacher who has accidentally met a woman in white while on his way to the Fairlie estate. Hartwright helps this woman (Anne Catherick) escape from two men intent on capturing her. Hartright has been commissioned to tutor the Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Marian Halcombe, who's one of the most strong-willed characters in fiction ever. Laura has been engaged to Mr. Glyde, a man who's only after the Fairlie inheritance. When Laura apparently dies due to a mysterious circumstance, Hartright becomes determined to find out the truth and hopefully reveal to everyone the sinister intention of Glyde. What follows is a whirlwind of tragic romance, mistaken identity, detective work, family secret revelations, and redemption.

So how does the woman in white figure in the story? Aside from having a strong resemblance to Laura Glyde, she carries with her a secret that can spell the downfall for one of the novel's main characters.

The Woman in White is truly one sensational work of fiction. If you have the willpower to go through the more than 600 pages, the effort is well worth it. It's hard to imagine why the novel was a bestseller when it came out in the 1850s. All the hallmarks of a very engaging read are here -- a mystery, cliffhangers, and narrative twists. It still is a hugely entertaining novel, if you pay close attention to the convoluted plot that Collins lays out for you.

I'm now on the look out for other novels by Wilkie Collins. I've already bought Armadale (another doorstop at more than 700 pages) and am planning to get a copy of No Name. I'll probably read The Moonstone again, since I read it when I was 13 and I probably wasn't able to catch all the details. You should read Collins, dear reader. You'd probably love sensational novels, too.

Read this book if:
  1. You love sensational fiction.
  2. You're craving for a good mystery.
  3. You like your novels big in every sense of the word.

19 comments:

Mike said...

Thanks to your blog post, I'm too intimidated to ever consider this book. :-)

I see you are reading "2666" by Bolano. How is it? That book is a doorstop as well. Is it Pynchonesque? Speaking of, I've had "Gravity's Rainbow" in my TBR for the longest time.

Peter S. said...

Hello, Mike! The Woman in White is quite enjoyable.

2666 is quite accessible, contrary to what you may think at first. It's not exactly Pynchonesque, as Pynchon usually employed a very unconventional way of telling the story. 2666 is more straightforward.

Amanda said...

I love it! This is the only one by Collins I've ever read (though I will start The Haunted Hotel next week), and it was just fantastic!

Logan said...

Great review! I just wish I had the time or patience to make it through 600(?!?) pages...

Sumthinblue said...

I have The Moonstone in my TBR. Will have to get a copy of this one too!

A Buckeye Girl Reads said...

This has been on my want to read list for years. I am so going to have to tackle this some day.

Charlie said...

600 pages isn't so bad; Dickens was publishing at the same time, albeit in serial format, but some of his books are longer--and well worth the time to read.

A great review of TWIW.

Book Bird Dog said...

Sounds like another good mystery book.

theliterarystew said...

So glad you loved it! Another good sensational novel is Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. That one was serialized when it came out so every chapter ends in a cliffhanger!

Peter said...

@Amanda: Ooohhh. I've always wanted to get my hands on a copy of The Haunted Hotel.

@Logan: Thanks. Reviewing classical fiction is certainly different from writing one for a contemporary novel. I also thought I wouldn't be able to finish the 600 pages of TWIW, but the 2nd half of the novel was just too engrossing.

@sumthinblue: The Moonstone is a very satisfying read. I think it's the first detective novel.

@A Buckeye Girl Reads: I can't wait to read your thoughts about this novel after you've read it!

@Charlie: I believe TWIW also came out in serial form. Dickens and Collins were friends, but they had a falling out eventually.

@Book Bird Dog: It is!

@theliterarystew: I'll definitely look out for that one.

StephanieD said...

I once attempted this book and I think I just wasn't ready for it or wasn't in the mood for something such a melodramatic style of writing. I will have to revisit it sometime.

Peter said...

Hello, StephanieD! I think you'll get used to his writing once you get past the first 100 pages or so.

bookjourney said...

Yes craving a good mystery! Nice review. I really dislike it when others open up too many thing in the books and then at the end weeks after you have finished the book you are still going, "Wait... they never did explain that...". I enjoy a well written read where an author can open all sorts of paths and doors and by the end you feel you have successfully walked through each of them. This sounds like such an author.

Peter said...

Hi, Sheila! You will definitely enjoy this one. Some people still feel though that the novel could've been tighter, but I was guess Collins was just writing in a style popular among the English during the mid 1800s.

Charlie said...

Hey, Peter! I did the 15 book list as a post instead of squeezing it in one of these little windows! Here's the link so you can snoop away:

Charlie's 15 books

Krista said...

Great review :) I might have to look into this one as I've never heard of it or the author before now, thanks! :)

All the best, Peter!

Peter S. said...

@Charlie: I just saw your list! Wonderful variety!

@Krista: Thanks. You'll definitely enjoy Collins.

Jeane said...

I've never read The Woman in White but I have to say the cover you posted is one of the most striking I've seen yet for this book. I keep looking and looking at it.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Jeane! The cover is very riveting, isn't it. Thanks for dropping by!