This book is fantastic. Anyone who says classics are dull has never read this! The Woman in White is a mystery, specifically the mystery of a woman…er, a woman in white. Also known as Anne Catherick. Is she a madwoman? Or a victim of foul play? The mystery goes beyond Anne, though, and victim or madwoman, she becomes the key to unraveling a whole host of deceptions involving identity theft, forgery, monetary theft, and possible murder. Every intrigue possible is touched on in this book. It’s too bad – for the characters – that they didn’t have modern forensic technology. This all would have been cleared up in an instant! For the reader’s sake, I’m glad this happens in the 1800s!
I won’t spend a lot of time on the plot. I wouldn’t want to give away any spoilers. Peeling off the layers of the mystery bit by bit was one of the funnest things about this book, so I won’t destroy it for anyone else. I’ll just give my impressions about the book overall, instead.
First, this is a great example of a serial novel done right. I’ve read several serials lately, and haven’t enjoyed them. With Vanity Fair especially, the serial format seemed to lead to plot and character inconsistencies, as well as a lot of pointless rambling. There was none of that in Woman in White. All the details, clues, hints, and plot intricacies were laid out perfectly. What rambling existed was in character, and fairly minimal. I couldn’t tell where one serial ended and the next began. It felt like one cohesive book, and not like a collection of book-parts. So apparently the serial format can be well done!
Second, and more importantly, I was extremely impressed with Collins’ use of voice. There are multiple first-person narrators in this book, and no two narrators spoke alike. The differences were subtle for the most part. It’s not like they each had a different dialect or vocabulary set. But the main narrator, Walter Hartright, was the sort of narrator who rambled on tangents a bit, and who was overly descriptive and poetic about emotions, while Marion Halcombe did a lot more “showing” than “telling,” and was blunt, to the point, precise, and unpoetic. Count Fosco’s arrogance ran through his narrative without hardly a specific word of praise towards himself, the housekeeper’s words were concise and full of Christian influence, and Mr. Fairlie’s narrative was nothing but whining. Each character’s narrative matched their 3rd person characterizations and dialog. It was spectacularly done. I know how difficult it is to create so many different voices, and I don’t know that I’ve ever read it better done than here.
Third, I love Marian Halcombe. She plays the role of an unmarried, never-to-be-married sister, an extremely intelligent and intuitive person who remains steady and clever throughout all her hardships. She is admired or hated by other characters for her perception, intelligence, and strength. She is one of the most interesting and admirable characters I’ve ever read about. Perhaps some may not agree with me, but I feel like she defies female stereotypes in 1800s literature, especially defying the stereotype of spinsters, which she essentially is.
I can’t praise this book enough. It’s fast and easy to read, it’s suspenseful, it’s masterfully planned out, and no part left me unsatisfied. I look forward to reading other books by Collins.