Monday, May 24, 2010

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Source: Librivox  (Zipped mp3s) 
Length: 25 hr, 34 min
Reader: multiple

The book:  As the book opens, artist Walter Hartright is about to embark on a new job: he'll be the drawing master for the heiress of Limmerage House, Miss Laura Fairlie and her half-sister Miss Marion Halcolme. While out for a stroll before leaving for Limmerage, he chances to meet a young woman, dressed all in white and behaving very erratically. The extremely long novel that follows this encounter starts out as a standard English romantic tragedy, but then takes a turn into a exciting yarn about hidden identities, secret agendas, and a intriguing mystery.

In its own day, The Woman in White was apparently a blockbuster bestseller, and it's easy to see why. Modern audiences may grow annoyed with Marion's constant lamentations that she would be better if she were a man, but she proves herself more heroic than any of the male characters in the book. Laura, on the other hand, I found to be weak, shallow, and unworthy of all the love and attention spent on her. Walter Hartright is an appropriately good-hearted hero, while the villains are self-centered and casually evil, but not so evil as to be cartoonish.

For all the book's length, it managed to hold my attention as an interesting read. To play the "If author 1 and author 2 had a baby" game, I would say it's like what would happen if Charlotte Bronte and Arthur Conan Doyle collaborated on a novel: you get the mystery and outre villains of Sherlock Holmes with the dark backstory, frustrated romance, and class inequality of Jane Eyre.

Rating: 9/10

The readers: Collins writes in his introduction, "the story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offense against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness."  The story unfolds as an epistolary novel, with the viewpoint switching between diaries written by protagonists, statements for the court from minor characters, and "documents" procured by Hartwright. The readers for LibriVox take up this theme by having different readers voice the different narrators of the story. Most of the readers are very good, with none being absolutely unlistenable. Especially talented are Tim Bulkeley as Walter Hartright and Ruth Golding as most of Marion Halcolme's parts. Since these two make up most of the narration for the book, many of the other readers have only a chapter or two. Of these minor characters,  Glen Halstrom is truly chilling as Count Fosco.

(This review was entered in a Book Review Party Wednesday contest at Cym Lowell's blog.)


hopeinbrazil said...

This is quite an eloquent review. I, too, thought Laura was a much less interesting character than her half sister.

I'm glad you are back!

Cym Lowell said...

I love that you linked up an audio book! Awesome, so glad to have you at the party :)