Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Challenge 3: 100 Best Book Entries

Challenge Description: Choose one of the lists below and go to the link provided. Choose a book to read from the list that you haven't read before. Read the book and write about it.

From the list I chose 100 Best Mystery Novels early in the year but hadn't really decided which book until August when I was participating in the readalong for A Woman in White and suddenly realised this book must surely feature on that list. It does - at No 32.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Considered to be among the first mystery novels and an early example of detective fiction The Woman in White is widely regarded as one of the first (and finest) in the genre of 'sensation novels'.
Written in 1859 it was first serialized and then published in book form in 1860.

It's a Classic!

Don't let that Classic label put you off. Allow a little time to get used to the 19th century writing style and it's as suspenseful and exciting as any modern day thriller. Wilkie Collins uses multiple narratives to tell the story. The longer ones told by the main characters are real page turners building the suspense through the events that are happening and then , exactly when you need it, there is a break. Lesser characters come to the fore and tell of the same events from their viewpoint. It's an excellent format as it gives the reader time to reflect and look for clues and work out for themself what is going on.

Plot and Characters

I don't want to give away too much of the plot but Wilkie Collin's characterisation is brilliant and every individual is not only fascinating but has a voice in their narrative that totally expresses their different personalities.

Walter Hartright is a drawing teacher who is tired of living in London and takes up new employment in Cumberland at Limmeridge House owned by Mr Frederick Fairlie, a totally self-absorbed invalid and recluse.
Walter is to teach Laura Fairlie, heiress and orphan............and the typical pretty, fragile Victorian heroine.
Marian Halcombe is Laura's half sister and companion.........very plain, but intelligent and resourceful......and now one of my alltime favourite woman characters.

Walter and Laura fall in love, but alas, he is poor and she is promised to another.......Sir Percival Glyde, a most devious man who is only after her fortune. Walter goes away, Laura marries and Sir Percival and his friend, the grossly obese and eccentric Italian Count Fosco set their evil plans in motion.

And of course there is the elusive Woman in White.

Mystery and intrigue, numerous twists and turns, constant cliffhangers - it's not hard to imagine Victorian readers eagerly awaiting their weekly installment - and a background rich in period detail made this one of the most unexpectedly satisfying reads this year.

Typically British Challenge
Suspense/Thriller Challenge
Chunkster Challenge
Colourful Challenge


  1. I have been a big fan of the classics for years but had, by some horrible oversight, never even heard of Wilkie Colins. I have got to pick this one up soon!

  2. I have been wanting to read this since reading The Thirteenth Tale -- this looks like such a fantastic read, and I'm kicking myself for not having read it sooner!!

  3. I have this book on RIP list, and was very enthusased to read it...until I saw it at the store, opened up the book and started to read the first page. My first thought was exhaustion because the language (writing style) seemed to require a bit more of my attention than my brain was willing to give. I decided that I would read the book, but at a different point in time when I am in the mood to read the 19th cent writing. Does that make sense? Anyway, after reading your review i am now wondering if I should rethink my first thought. That maybe the 600 or so pages will not require too much acclimation on my part. Oh...decisions.

  4. Never heard of this one, but sounds like a chilling concept. I hope she gets her man in the end

  5. I just read this one this year and really enjoyed it. It was a great gothic tale.

  6. Deanna - when I read that first page my heart sank but the rest is nothing like it. I'm sure you'd enjoy it.

  7. I enjoyed it when I read this last year. You're right, once you're used to the writing style, it's just like any other mystery.

    I've planned The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins for this week - hope I get round to it!

    BTW Are you not reading this for the RIP challenge? I saw that you joined (sidebar).

  8. Sometimes I feel like the only person who couldn't get into this book. I tried to read it last year but just couldn't care about what was going to happen next. Since it is a classic I will probably try again at some point. Glad you enjoyed it!