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Apr

24

Review: The Moonstone

By pcurd

The Moonstone
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve been reading this book for a while now (Kindle says I started in August last year! 8 months!) but I haven’t been reading every week, or even every month. That’s not because it’s a bad story, far from it, or because it’s not a compelling tale, it is, but because I have been pretty deep in a series of audio books and found myself filling time that way. However, the last 40% or so of the story really pick up the engagement, the framing changes, the narrator changes (it’s an epistolary), and suddenly I had to finish it.

The story is considered the first full length detective novel written in English and as a fan of the genre, I was keen to see where it had started. The contemporary setting of the 1840-60s is not a period I know well. Around that time I believe the only authors active in that time from whom I’ve read more than one book are: Oscar Wilde (mostly later (1880-90s)), Jane Austin (earlier (she died in 1817)), Edgar Allan Poe (died in 1849), Jules Verne, and Charles Dickens. I haven’t read any Thomas Hardy, nor any Robert Louis Stevenson, and only one Lewis Carroll. Perhaps this should direct my future “to read” list then.. But, to the point – The Moonstone gave me a very interesting slice of life I haven’t seen before. Whilst the family-centric lifestyle of Austin is here, there is also a good railway service so the ladies of the household can move around. Rachel Verinder catches trains all over the place – I can’t see Elizabeth Bennet travelling this way (and the railway didn’t open until 12 years after the book was written). The servants described so well by P G Wodehouse or Verne get plenty of words, but they don’t have the social mobility of the 1900s yet – they live in house and are hereditary. It’s an in-between time – and fascinating because of it. Whereas Dickens gave a deep view of the underclass and the seedy, Wilkie Collins merely touches on it. Collins’ focus is on the lives of the privileged and those in contact with them.

My favourite narrators were the “head servant” Betteredge and the “adventurer” Blake. Both are key characters in the story and cross reference each other in a very interesting way – something not many stories are able to do. I wasn’t expecting the amount of humour that comes out during Betteredge and Miss Clack’s sections – it’s rather modern and very British. I looked forward to these narrators and found the change of pace quite rewarding. However, none of the narrators were boring and all had an interesting twist on their telling of the story. Their prejudices and world view form the majority of the story – how and what they see in the world is often more interesting than the sub-plots. This kind of social commentary is of course common in 19th century storytelling and Collins’ inclusion in The Moonstone isn’t out of place.

I find myself being reminded in parts of the Jeeves and Wooster series by Wodehouse – even though these books are set (and were written) many decades later, I am sure Wodehouse was inspired by those that came before him – The Moonstone must be included.

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Apr

13

Review: Chorus Skating

By pcurd

Chorus Skating
Chorus Skating by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s done! I’ve finished the Spellsinger series! It wasn’t a hard series to work through, really they are “easy listening” stories, but it felt like a long time.

It’s a return to form after the diversion through the 7th book (Son of Spellsinger), focusing again on the cast of the third 6 stories with a layer of “elderly” creakiness thrown on top. Really though, chronologically the cast can’t be older than their early 40s so the frequent comments on dodgy backs, pained knees, and worn out fingers is a little over the top. Foster himself must have been older than that when writing this book, I hope he wasn’t feeling his age quite that much!

The story follows the same rambling through the country meeting people and solving their problems motif that has been the series staple since the third book, this time focusing only on one sub-plot. This could have been a problem, but for once the new characters (because, of course, bringing back old characters would be far too dull) aren’t all annoying. All of them are interesting, and the majority have a good mix of personality and motivations. It felt a little like he was trying to cram in a few more “tribes”/species to get them off his list, but it was a good variety which added to the plot rather than being entirely fluff.

My biggest gribe is the continuation of the trend towards terrible female characters. Since the midpoint in the series I think Foster went off women, and starting writing awful characters with only two possible guises – the house-proud busybody or the acquisitive wet rag. Even once strong characters from the beginning of the series are not immune, morphing into a totally different person on their reappearance. In this book the problem is multiplied by the number of female characters brought in at once. What Foster was doing, I can’t imagine, but he does manage to introduce a new group with a different background to those we’ve seen before that I became quite attached to. Of course they are all men, since they are well written.

I still don’t think I can recommend the Spellsinger books to any particular group, or type of fan. They aren’t good fantasy stories, they aren’t good adventure stories, and I don’t think they are good “anthropamorphic animal” stories (although I’m no expert in that genre). I was able to enjoy them though, and this is one of the better ones for sure. I will miss one or two of the characters – but all the best characters left after their respective book never to be seen again anyway so I’m used to that.

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