Tuesday, 9 August 2011

'The Woman in White' by Wilkie Collins (1860)

Synopsis: Walter Hartright is walking home on his last night in London when he has an eerie encounter with a mysterious woman who is dressed all in white, and is apparently in deep distress. Walter helps her on her way but later finds out that she has escaped from an asylum. The next day he travels north to Limmeridge House where he has been commissioned to teach drawing to two half-sisters: Laura Fairlie and Marian Halcombe. Walter is shocked to find that Laura bears a very strong resemblance to the woman in white. He then becomes involved in the sinister plotting of Sir Percival Glyde and his "charming" friend Count Fosco.
I really was well and truly blown away by The Woman in White.It was written by Wilkie Collins, who was a close friend of Charles Dickens and a great author too in his own right. I was expecting the book to be a good read but happily it exceeded all my expectations and turned out to be a fantastic one!
The Woman in White is a big book but it's a real page-turner and it easily beats most of the current thrillers being written today. Yes, the book relies on a couple of unlikely coincidences that a modern author probably wouldn't be able to get away with but, leaving that aside, it's a brilliant gothic thriller and mystery novel. It's genuinely clever, brilliantly-plotted and exciting. It's absolutely full of intrigue, tension, suspense, humour, mystery and romance. The book is an early pioneer of the detective novel and it's incredibly entertaining. It moves at such a pace that I'd frequently say to myself "just one more chapter" and there I'd be, still reading, 100 pages later. It's that gripping and it keeps you guessing right to the very end. I can well imagine that had I been living in the Victorian era when the book was first serialised I would have been eagerly awaiting each upcoming issue so I could find out what happens next.
Collins was clearly an amazing storyteller and I was really impressed with his interesting narrative style. Collins uses a multiple first-person narrative technique: The Woman in White is told in epistolary form and we read the letters and diary entries of a variety of different characters. This narrative technique was something that I'd already encountered in Bram Stoker's Dracula but is used to even better effect here. You really do get a strong sense of each character's personality and you're given such an insight into their thoughts. I very much enjoyed reading about the brave and endearing Walter Hartright, and the hilarious, hypochondriac uncle Mr Fairlie, and the eccentric and menacing villain Count Fosco. However, it was the character whose diary entry takes place in the middle of the book that I loved best: Marian Halcombe. I loved how intelligent, strong, brave and determined she was. She's become one of my favourite fictional heroines and she is so much more interesting and fascinating than her sister, the sweet but passive Laura. I'm always impressed by authors who can write believable characters of an opposite gender, especially in first person, and Marian definetly felt very real to me. I think Collins probably had very modern views on women and their role in society.
Rating: 5/5

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