The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

I would never have picked this book up if it weren’t one of the choices in the Platform Book Club, Platform being the website I edit in my day job. I always try and contribute to the club and see it as a way of expanding my reading, which was one of the things I promised myself I’d do last year. And I did. I read the blurb and thought, “this could actually be a good read”. And it was.

I started reading it while on honeymoon in Hawaii, which didn’t seem to be the right place to be reading a classic mystery novel. Poolside, a mango smoothie in hand and with hot sun beating on my head was in stark contrast to gloomy London in the 1800s. After the first few pages I did think, ‘come on get on with it, can I cope with all this fancy and old-fashioned language which dillies and dallies before the characters actually get to the point?’ But once the story moved to Limmeridge House, I was introduced to the main players and the mystery of The Woman in White began, I was gripped. I was gripped by the lovely language, the romanticism of the era in which ladies are treated as such and manners come before emotional matters of the heart. I also liked the characters, Marian especially for being as bold and brave as a woman could be in the 1800s, and Count Fosco, an evil man at heart but somewhat likeable at the same time. Walter Hartwright was a tad wishy washy to start with but he was much admired towards the end of the story for his passion to achieve what is right and just.

What did surprise me, and having never lived in the 1800s I don’t know if it’s true or not, was how weak people were back then, particularly women, and how characters fell physically ill just on receiving bad news. People would be dropping like flies if that were the case today. I was surprised how characters’ physical appearances were dramatically altered by emotional events. Was this really the case?

I enjoyed that the story is told through a number of narratives, through each character’s perspective and in the order of events as they took place. Reading from different perspectives gave a wholesome view of the mystery as it unravelled and which I became as desperate to solve as Walter Hartwright.

Despite it being a thick book with small type – I often get put off by huge word counts – I rattled through this novel pretty quickly and it’s not one you can skim read. I thought it was a beautiful story which sees a mystery unfold without being able to predict the twists and turns along the way. I was actually shocked at some parts of the plot, and I liked the ending too. Without wanting to give anything away, endings make or break a book for me and this left me completely satisfied. I’d definitely recommend this book, particularly to people interested in historic novels and complex mysteries.

Robyn’s rating: 9/10

Posted January 2011

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