About Me

Tollesbury, Essex, United Kingdom
I was born in the Summer of 1969 in Dagenham, just on the border of East London. School was largely unproductive but enjoyable, setting me up for something of a wayward but interesting life! On leaving school I had various jobs including putting up stalls at Romford Market, working in a record shop, putting up ceilings, gardening and road sweeping. After resigning from an insurance company to play in a band, I found myself unemployed for two years. Then finally I got back on my feet and I've been a psychiatric nurse since 1997. I wrote A Cleansing of Souls when I was 22 years old and followed it up with Tollesbury Time Forever almost twenty years later. I started writing The Bird That Nobody Sees in September 2011 and it was released in July 2012. In terms of writing, my heroes are Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. I would also include Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits as literary influences. So that's me I guess - scruffy, happy and in love with literary fiction, music and life...

Friday, 13 April 2012

A Review of The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

The Moonstone was published in 1868 and has been hailed as the prototype of much subsequent 'Detective Fiction.' Interestingly a novel called Monsieur Lecoq by Emile Gaboriau was published the same year and was, according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a direct influence on the creation of Sherlock Holmes. A final note on 1868 is that it was the first Cricket Tour to England by an Australian team - a team made up entirely of Aboriginies. Over a five-month period, the tourists played 47 matches. They were not paid and, after each match, they had to put on a boomerang and spear-throwing display. Interesting times then!

So to The Moonstone. I found the basic premise of the novel far less interesting than the characters. An Indian Diamond (The Moonstone) is stolen from a shrine by a rogue English soldier who in the process slew the three men whose purpose in life was to protect it. There are stories of a curse being put upon anybody who possesses the stolen diamond and that the descendants of the three Indians who were murdered are to retrieve the diamond at whatever cost. The Moonstone is bequeathed to a young aristocratic woman from whom it is subsequently stolen.

The majority of the novel comprises the investigation into the stolen diamond. It is told in several first person narratives including a servile butler, a religious zealot, a mysterious doctor and a gentleman who is in love with the young woman from whom The Moonstone was stolen. A famous London Detective is assigned the case following bungling attempts by the local constabulary. He is mistrusted by the aristocratic establishment. He has a passion for roses and the arts. He employs methods others deem to be eccentric. Yet he gets results and is famous all over England. Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse and Adam Dalgleish - progenies all!

The plot is very clever, intricate and daring. The reader is led to believe that almost every character could be the thief and there are red herrings galore. The fact that the novel was first serialised in a magazine is evident by the cliff-hangers at the end of every chapter and the occasional contrived summation of events by one character to another. And the literal unmasking of the thief towards the end is straight out of Scooby Doo - but no, it's not Old Man Withers from the abandoned amusement park...

For me the biggest joy, and what a joy, was the characters. The skill necessary to write several first person narratives within the same novel that all have such distinct voices is incredible. I would even go as far as to say that within the narrative of Miss Clack - the young religious zealot, there are passages that rival Catch-22 for outright hilarity and madness. The butler, Betteridge, who consults his copy of Robinson Crusoe at times when he needs answers to the confusion in his life is wonderful too. Two swipes at the prevailing religious establishment and two characters that Oscar Wilde or PG Wodehouse I'm sure would have been proud to have created!

More courageously and, for the time, so humane, is the depiction of the foreign characters in the novel. Ezra Jennings, shunned by his local community for his Indian origins is a wonderful depiction of dignity and gentleness so much at contrast with the insular, money-ridden lives of the other characters. And the final scene really humbled me, not just with the majesty of it but in the realisation that I too had been swept along by the machinations of the rich and the search for the diamond thief when right from the outset it is quite clear that the real thief is The British Empire. No spear-throwing demonstrations here - just a deep understanding of the nature of a dignified man and his people.

Elements of The Moonstone have clearly been embellished by subsequent authors (as well as Hannah Barbara!) and to this day TV programmes, films and books continue to survive from the genius of Wilkie Collins. I do think it is sad though that perhaps the humanity of the book may get missed amongst the chuckles and the cleverness, that the irony and the social commentary may be overlooked as I'm sure it was back in 1868. People would have read the serialisation with absolute excitement being enthralled and entertained, rushing out to buy the magazine to read the next installment. And who, even these days, doesn't want to be excited, enthralled and entertained? I as much as anyone. But it is the subtle reflections on Empire, the perhaps less than subtle reflections on religion and the marvelous dignity in the characters of Ezra Jennings that, for me, elevate The Moonstone from a good book to a great book.

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