Active Users:274 Time:27/05/2024 10:02:38 AM
Wives and Daughters (Gaskell), NW (Zadie Smith) and The Moonstone (Collins) Legolas Send a noteboard - 12/09/2013 07:38:24 PM

I figured I'd refrain from spamming the board with three separate reviews, and try my hand at writing reviews that are actually (relatively) concise - not usually my strongest suit.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Elizabeth Gaskell is one of the many Victorian writers who remain popular to this day and whose works keep being turned into TV series or movies. I hadn't read anything by her yet, and figured I'd start with this one, possibly her best-known novel.

The novel is in many ways reminiscent of Jane Austen, in terms of setting and plot. Protagonist Molly Gibson is an adolescent girl with a very close bond to her father, her mother having died when she was a small child; so when her father decides to remarry, precisely because of her reaching an age at which a (step-)mother's advice and chaperoning would come in handy, she is understandably less than thrilled. Her stepmother as it turns out is selfish, hypocritical and generally clueless - but has a daughter of Molly's age, Cynthia, who compensates for a lot, to Molly, to her father and to the reader alike. Flamboyant, desired by just about all the men and a "moral kangaroo" by her own description, she brings life both to the sleepy village and to the novel.

Plot-wise, there is little in the novel that can't be seen coming from a long way off. The characterization on the other hand is very good, though Cynthia is the only truly memorable character. The main strength of the novel lies no doubt in its subtle and excellent analysis of family relationships, in the Gibson family and in the two noble families that they have ties to, as well as the topic of rank and its effects on social relations in British villages in the 1820s (i.e. before the Reform Bill which provided voting rights and hence political/social power to a much larger group of people). For that, it entirely deserves its status as a classic and I recommend it to those interested in the period or the topic, but others may find the unremarkable plot and slow pace too big obstacles to overcome.

NW by Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith is a young British writer of Jamaican origin, who is in my opinion (and that of many critics) quite possibly the best young novelist out there at the moment, having produced masterpieces like White Teeth and On Beauty. I had been intending to read this novel at some point anyway, but bought it now because I found out that it was set in the London suburb of Willesden, which as it happened was where I was staying last week.

The novel focuses on four Londoners in their thirties, of various ethno-cultural backgrounds, who all grew up in the same area but are now living quite different lives - though their shared past can't be forgotten so easily as it turns out. The main story of the novel (i.e. leaving out the flashbacks) is actually quite short and simple, but very effective, albeit also rather depressing. The structure, in terms of combining flashbacks and "main story" and combining viewpoints, may seem a bit odd but works like a charm. One of Smith's most notable strengths is her dialogue, which is again on full display here - though for all that, the characters are all more or less lonely in their different ways.

On the whole, I'm not inclined to rank this novel as high as either of the aforementioned earlier novels, but it's still excellent. Possibly also more accessible to a reader who hasn't read any of Smith's works before, what with being considerably shorter and in a way less complex.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I know this is one of Rebekah's favourites, and I had been looking forward to reading it ever since greatly enjoying Collins' The Woman in White earlier this year.

This has been described as the first detective novel in English (as opposed to shorter stories like Edgar Allan Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue), and I have to say there is a lot here that reminds the reader of Agatha Christie in particular, although unlike most detective novels, there is no single heroic detective who solves the mystery. In fact, Collins managed to subvert the genre almost before it even existed, by introducing a brilliant and vaguely Poirot-like detective who thinks he has solved the case perfectly - but turns out to be quite wrong. The story focuses on a huge diamond that had been stolen from an Indian statue, which is given to a young noble girl for her birthday several decades later - but the Indians are still hunting for it, and the diamond disappears on the night of the birthday dinner. It's told through a succession of narratives by different characters, much like in The Woman in White, though here Collins seems to have decided to give his narrators far more room to display their individual personalities and viewpoints, going from an old butler with a Robinson Crusoe obsession to a (mercilessly satirized) evangelical old spinster. That provides for a lot of humour and keeps even the otherwise less interesting passages entertaining, but the old spinster thing felt rather exaggerated at times.

The resolution of the mystery is somewhat disappointing as mysteries go, and I have serious doubts about the supposedly scientific experiment that leads to said resolution. The ending, in short, is not that great and a bit of a letdown after the promising start. Much like The Woman in White, the Moonstone is a very good novel, brilliant for its originality and innovative ideas at the time, and a very enjoyable read even now, but with a somewhat sub-par ending.

Reply to message
Wives and Daughters (Gaskell), NW (Zadie Smith) and The Moonstone (Collins) - 12/09/2013 07:38:24 PM 6983 Views

Reply to Message