Friday, August 2, 2013

Book Review: The Woman in White

THE WOMAN IN WHITE: Incredibly gripping for a 700-page Victorian novel

Victorian literature employs complicated sentence structures, poetic writing styles, and, most of the time, over-expanded descriptions and character thoughts. This is actually the main reason why it is not very marketable to typical modern readers, for these people do not possess the attention span needed to clear such overcomplicated prose. Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White is no exception. This epistolary novel can easily intimidate modern readers with its complicated structure. Add the fact that this structure is consistently used in 700 pages and this book becomes quite unreadable for others.

I must admit that I bought this book thinking that it is a horror novel. The title, the book cover, and the premise have made me assume so. Aside from that, the first pages of the book also possess a peculiarly eerie atmosphere that makes me believe that my assumption is correct. But as I go further into the book, I discover that I’m wrong. The Woman in White is actually a melodramatic novel that revolves around a young woman who is drawn into criminal dangers. However, I’m not disappointed that the novel turns out to be lacking of supernatural elements. In fact, the story is so gripping that supernatural elements are not needed to make it interesting. It is covered by a number of multi-layered mysteries. These mysteries are so numerous that, from time to time, the author gratifies me by unravelling one of them to keep my interests; and, I must admit, that Wilkie Collins has been successful on doing so.

            This may sound weird for Victorian literature, but I find The Woman in White to be a very fast-paced book. Sure, it has been over-descriptive with certain scenarios and it has dwelled too much, from time to time, on the thoughts of the current narrator. But I still consider it fast-paced because the story is consistently moving to the right direction. There are no random scenes just to make the book longer. Every sequence is a piece of the general story; and this has been one of the reasons why I couldn’t put this book down. Speaking of the general story, I can’t help but be amazed how complicated its foundations are. There are so many events that happened prior to the timeline of the story that affect the current conditions. There are just so many questions that need to be answered, and so many conflicts that need to be solved. This fact has made this novel a very gripping one.

Another good thing about this book is how it exploited the epistolary style. This writing technique could actually make a novel very confusing because of too much number of perspectives that cover the overall story. But this is not the case for The Woman in White. The use of multiple narratives to present the story has been effective. Wilkie Collins exploited this style by offering to the readers the best perspective of a particular scenario. Keep in mind that I’m not using the word ‘best’ as synonymous to ‘clearest’, for what I mean by ‘best’ is ‘most appropriate’ -- meaning, the most qualified perspective to advance the author’s interests, which involve the concealment of certain plot points and the revelation of others by utilizing perspective. What makes this style even more interesting is the fact that each narrator has his own unique voice. The writing style is not the same for each narrator, for it depends on his personality and social standing.

However, this does not necessarily mean that all of the characters have depth. In fact, some of them are a bit lacking in that department. Lady Glyde’s personality is expanded, but not enough, considering that she is one of the pillars that hold the story. Anne Catherick is the same case; and this is disappointing, for she has such a potential to be an interesting character. It’s just too bad that I don’t have the chance to know her further. Walter Hartright, even though he is pretty distinct, for he takes the detective role in the story, tends to be somewhat bland for my taste. He lacks personality that could make him pass as the main character. But The Woman in White has its own share of well-drawn characters as well. Marian Halcombe is probably one of the most vivid female characters I have encountered in Victorian literature. Count Fosco is also someone not to be ignored. He is distinct in his own right. Sir Percival Glyde and Frederick Fairlie also possess their own share of distinction.

Perhaps the only negative thing about this book that I could point out, even though it isn’t really a negative thing in the time it has been written, is the fact that some of the twists and turns are quite predictable, for they have been constantly used in modern soap operas and dramas. But I’m pretty sure that these twists will be rather shocking to me if I have lived in the 19th century.

The Woman in White, not just as a sensation novel, but as a novel in general, is a very good read. The plot and its development are very compelling. The way they have been written is easier to understand compared to the works of other Victorian writers. I recommend this book to those who enjoy classic books -- and to them alone. This is clearly not a book for the typical modern reader.

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