‘The Moonstone’ is the story of a diamond, said to be cursed, which is bequeathed to Rachel Verinder on her 18th birthday and stolen the same night. What follows is a dramatic and scandalous series of events, told from the perspective of multiple narrators. For a work of Victorian literature, I found it surprisingly funny, open-minded and easy to read. There were some lovely, atmospheric descriptive passages and the action took place in a wide variety of places including rural Yorkshire, Brighton, London and India, which kept it interesting.
The characters were idiosyncratic and amusing, if a little one-dimensional. Miss Clack, the religious fanatic who distributed tracts with appealing titles such as ‘Satan under the Tea Table‘, made a particularly interesting narrator. I was also amused by the faithful, Robinson-Crusoe-obsessed servant Gabriel Betteredge, who decided with regards to his housekeeper, ‘it will be cheaper to marry her than to keep her’. Then there was Caroline Ablewhite, whose idea of exercise was looking at ‘an invalid going by in a chair on wheels […] If it’s air you want, you get it in your chair. If it’s fatigue you want, I am sure it’s fatiguing enough to look at the man.’ The female characters were almost all strong and interesting, especially considering the time at which the book was written. However, although Sandra Kemp’s introduction to my edition said that Rosanna Spearman was a ‘memorable’ and ‘vivid’ character, I disagree: I found her drippy, and her ‘love at first sight’ and subsequent suicide were melodramatic and unbelievable. Sergeant Cuff was also a pretty poor detective – I kept waiting for him to pull a trick out of the bag but in the end it was the civilian characters who put all the hard work into solving the mystery.
‘The Moonstone’ is not a quick read – if it was a modern detective novel, it would have been half the size. But it is certainly a worthwhile read, with an unusual and surprising mystery at its core.