Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Woman in White" by Wilkie Collins

Here's another one from the list of the 100 Best Loved Books. It was first published in 1860. The author was a contemporary and friend of Charles Dickens, and almost as wordy. (But not quite, because who is?)

I must admit that I was daunted by the 504 pages of this book. I mean, I've read longer books. It wasn't that I didn't think I could finish it, but that I was afraid I would spend too long reading each day and shirk my responsibilities like I did with the previous book, except 2.5 times as much. I decided to limit myself to 100 pages a day so that I might also manage to feed my kids with some regularity.

However, this quickly became more of a goal or a challenge than a limit. A hundred pages was easy the first day because I spent the morning in a doctor's waiting room (without any of the kids, I might add). But I only managed about 14 pages the second day! Then 37 the next. Then I managed to catch a bug that my older kids so graciously brought home to me from school. I contrived to stay in bed for the next two days, and made up for lost time between naps. I don't recommend this method, but it helped by giving me more time to read than I would have had otherwise.

Judging by the back of the book, which claimed that the author's aim was "the 'creepy' effect," I was expecting shivers. I am sad to report that the story is not especially chilling. (OK, this might be a spoiler, so close your eyes for a moment): Once again I was disappointed by the lack of a ghost; I was just sure the titular woman in white was a ghostly figure. (You can open your eyes again now).

That's not to say, however, that I didn't like the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it (even though I did not enjoy my circumstances these past two days). It is Very Victorian, and reminded me of other great books like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. It was very well-written and left no plot holes that I could detect. I was afraid that I would be left without ever knowing the Secret that Sir Percival was so anxious to keep hidden, or that the amazing likeness between Anne Catherick and Laura Fairlie would remain brushed aside as a simple coincidence, but I should not have allowed myself to fret. Collins covered all ground sufficiently . . . some areas, it seemed to me, multiple times.

In fact, that may be my one complaint about the book (other than the fact that it wasn't very creepy, which wouldn't have even been a complaint if the back cover hadn't raised my expectations in that direction). Towards the end (especially during Count Fosco's superfluous narrative in which I didn't learn anything new) a satisfactory resolution could have been reached in a much smaller number of pages. I began to feel as if I was being beaten over the head with details that were already, for the most part, clear enough to me. But this was a small price to pay for an absorbing Victorian mystery.

Be forewarned that reading 100 pages of this book is about like reading 200 pages of any other. If you have any sort of life or responsibilities outside of reading, give yourself at least a week (maybe even two) to get through it.

5 comments:

Kathy said...

I totally meant to say, but I forgot--there was one important revelation in Count Fosco's narrative: the fact that he would murder out of necessity, along with his oddly skewed idea that he should be judged by how "comparatively innocent" his actions were in light of what he might have done. But his narrative didn't need to be 12 pages long to make that point.

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

I enjoy literary classics for the most part but authors in earlier times were overly verbose in their writing, weren't they.

Thanks for commenting and leaving a link to your review of the VVV book-- I left a comment on that post but didn't know if you would see it since it was an older post.

I really like your blog-- your review voice is very conversational and natural. I don't typically read lots of reviews but yours are entertaining and cover an ecletic mix. I'll be back-- I want to follow but don't see where to do that.

:o)

Cozy Book Nook (Lesa) said...

Thanks for the tip-- I'm now following. I'm going to try that with the next wordpress blog I find that I want to follow-- wordpress doesn't offer a follow and I want to follow not subscribe. Have you considered joining the Blog Hop on Fridays? It is a good way to connect with other bloggers and gain new followers/readers.

Vintage Reading said...

I love that cover. Like the sound of the book, too. Yes, 500 page Victorian novels can be daunting, but satisfying, too!

Heather said...

This was on my tentative summer reading list, but may be crossed out after you compared it as far as wordiness to Dickens. ARGH. I don't think it is right to take my kid's ADD meds, so I am going to put this on on the bottom of the list.
Thanks.