01/01/2010

Romancing the (Moon)Stone

The Moonstone is one of my personal candidates for the title of best mystery novel ever written (other nominees include The Hound of the Baskervilles, Gaboriau's Le Crime d'Orcival or J.D. Carr's The Three Coffins among many, many others) and this review sums up what makes this book so great very well.

Believe it or not, it remained on my shelves for ten years before I actually got around to read it - I was negatively impressed by the length of the book as well as by his age; surely its only interest was of a historical kind. And then one day I finally opened it, read the first three pages and I was hooked. I couldn't put it down and the only disappointment I felt when finally closing the book was that it was already over.

Pace Barzun, T.S. Eliot had every right to label this book "the [...] greatest of English detective novels" (he also thought it was the first, but was wrong on this count as primogeniture belongs to Charles Felix's obscure The Notting Hill Mystery) as everything about this book is perfect or near-perfect from the masterful construction to the equally wonderful characterization. It is also strikingly modern, absolutely not the period piece you might expect. One century and a half ago, the detective novel had already taken on most of its definitive shape and to see it emerge before one's eyes is but one of the book's many pleasures.

Now talking about it makes me feel like reading it again. A good way to start a new decade, isn't it?

1 commentaire:

Jojo Lapin X a dit…

Ok, I finally read THE MOONSTONE. While I have read other works by Collins before, I always held off reading this one because I thought I already was familiar with it, having read the Classics Illustrated comic-book adaptation as a child. It always puzzled me, though, when people referred to it as a “mystery novel.” I remembered it as an exotic adventure story. Having now read the actual book, and re-consulted the Classics Illustrated version, everything is clear to me. The comic-book is a very loose adaptation. The Prologue of the novel, about the storming of Seringapatam and the original acquisition of the jewel, is expanded so that it takes up about half of the book! The mystery element is entirely removed, as we get to see who takes the jewel from Rachel’s sitting-room when it happens! There is no nicotine withdrawal, no doctor, no opium---instead Godfrey Ablewhite gives Franklin Blake some kind of hypnotic drug that puts the latter directly under his command!

While THE MOONSTONE is thoroughly enjoyable, I would not call it the best mystery novel of all time, or even of Victorian times. My favorite Victorian novels are those of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. While the puzzles of Le Fanu’s mysteries are vastly inferior to anything Collins came up with, the best of his novels are extremely satisfying in a totally different manner. UNCLE SILAS is one of the most entertaining things you will ever read.