Late one evening in 1849, art teacher Walter Hartwright walks from his mother’s home in suburban London into the city. He meets a mysterious woman wearing white on his path, and he helps her to the city. The next day, he travels to his new employment in Limmeridge House, the Lake District, to teach the lovely Miss Fairlie. As the subsequent events are told through various people’s remembrances, letters, and journal entries, we learn how all the mysterious people and strong personalities are connected. It doesn’t all become clear until the very end.
I loved how I never knew what was coming next as I listened to the audiobook for The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I was surprised to find that the titular woman in white appeared at the very beginning, and then I was surprised to find that I had no idea what would happen next and how it all fit together. I had suspicions that were generally correct, but the details were impossible to predict. That doesn’t mean it was out of the blue: far from it. I was just kept in eager anticipation for how the unknown would eventually resolve.
Beyond that, I delighted in the characters. I loved the recording I listened to, which was downloaded from librivox.org. While it was amateur, the narrators did a great job of capturing the personalities of the different narrators, and after listening to it, I wonder if the writing spoke clearly for itself. Were the characters written this strongly? I suspect they were, for most of the people in my librarything group (which read this two months ago) loved the characterization as well.
Collins’ style in The Woman in White was epistolary and legal. As the preamble says, “The story here presented will be told by more than one pen, as the story of an offence against the laws is told in Court by more than one witness” (quote taken from Wikipedia since I don’t have a physical copy of the book). While I haven’t always been crazy about epistolary novels, this one really worked because each voice seemed different.
I recall reading somewhere that The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a classic mystery-thriller. I don’t read many mysteries or thrillers, but I have a hard time labeling it as either of those. It was subtle, so I don’t think it really fits in the same category as what I think of as “thriller.” But I was always eager to find out what happens next and the suspense would build. In fact, since I normally listen when I’m driving or doing chores, I found myself going out of my way to do chores so I could listen to more of it!
I hadn’t heard of Wilkie Collins before I began book blogging. It turns out he was a contemporary and good friend of Charles Dickens. Why do we all know of Dickens and not Collins? According to Wikipedia, Collins lost his literary edge after Dicken’s death because it was “the loss of his literary mentoring.” That made me sad. I wonder if his later writing would have been better had he had some other mentor to help him get focused.
I did enjoy it and only had a few qualms about the ending, which seemed a bit rushed. I realize the author was trying to tie up loose ends, and I don’t really want to complain. Overall, I am delighted to have discovered Wilkie Collins, who I’d never read before.
P.S. The musical sounds dreadful! What were they thinking?!
What Wilkie Collins novels have you enjoyed?
Do like epistolary novels? When you read them, do you find that each letter has a different voice?