Thursday, December 30, 2010

the woman in white

I have recently finished Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, which was published in 1860. It's been my summer-days-lying-in-a-hammock-while-celebrating-Christmas novel. I would definitely recommend it for this type of reading - it's gripping, and rather fun, and definitely not a difficult read at all. I expected it to be about ghosts and was pleased it was a novel of detection instead.

Having said that, there were moments in which I could not contain my frustration with the author. Marian Halcombe could have been a fantastic heroine if we weren't constantly reminded how "unwomanly" she is. The section narrated by her is wonderful, but we hear no more directly from her after that, even when she is still taking an active role - a huge pity. Laura Fairlie could have been much more interesting if she wasn't so utterly helpless, although of course she needed to be insipidly fragile in order to inspire love and devotion (about which I think my last blog post complained). I feel that this tale could have been much more subversive than it actually was. The situation in which Laura finds herself is so entirely wrong. She is a casualty of a world that is run by men for men, but the author hardly questions the society that allows this to happen. Of course, he was a man himself, but that shouldn't have to mean he props up societal conventions even as he shows their flaws.

The big unexpected twist in the middle of the novel (I don't want to spoil it so I can't expand) is a relief, but after that I expected many more unlikely things which did not happen. The number of coincidences applied to the story (such as the importance of Professor Pesca at the end) also seem a little too much. The villains did not ring quite true to me. Then, the plot, which had promised so much at the beginning, began to lose momentum.

All the same, I did enjoy this novel. It has a spark of something. It made me want to keep reading, even when I could see all its flaws. It's a fun book! It slides between the different narrators reasonably fluidly, it pulls out the absurdities of characters and laughs at them, it doesn't take itself too seriously. It does manage to create a very appealing character in Marian Halcombe - I only wish she could speak for herself a little more. Maybe someone should write some fanfiction!!

I give it three stars. It is a good book, it is a fun book, but it is flawed.

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