Book Review: The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

A diamond is stolen from the English country estate of Lady Verinder and the renowned Sergeant Cuff is brought in from London to help solve the case. The diamond, said to bring bad luck to its owner because it was stolen from a temple in India, was given to Lady Verinder’s daughter, Rachel, on her 18th birthday. It was bequeathed to Rachel from her uncle (who stole it when he was a young soldier) on his death. The story unfolds through several narrators, all of whom know a piece of what happened. As each of them writes his or her side of the story, the reader gets just a little more information that helps to solve the mystery.

Considered to be the first detective mystery, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins offers a glimpse into the times it was written—the 1860s.  It was published serially, with new pieces of the story unfolding one section at a time for around six months. It reveals the understandings held about English ladies and gentleman, especially the thought that no well brought up young man or woman could ever commit a crime. It touches on a common occurrence at the time, the looting of jewels by English soldiers from temples in India. And, it’s fun to read once you get into the rhythm of Collins’s writing style (writers at the time were paid by the word, so you won’t find sparse descriptions and conversations here).

Each narrator brought a different perspective and style that was refreshing, and each break kept the story moving in unexpected ways. My daughter and I both found it fun to guess what had happened the night of the theft and in the days following it. My guesses were invariably wrong, but that didn’t stop me from developing new theories as the story progressed. My daughter’s guess about the culprit was right, although neither of us anticipated some of the twists and turns The Moonstone took before the mystery was actually resolved.

The Moonstone makes for longer reading in mother-daughter book clubs, but it is easily divided into two separate sections that can be discussed at two different meetings. Groups could read The Loss of the Diamond, then gather to discuss their theories about what happened. They could also write predictions down and compare them to what actually happened during the rest of the book when they meet again. I recommend The Moonstone for reading groups with girls aged 14 and up.

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