Book Review – “The Woman In White” by Wilkie Collins

Book: The Woman In White

Author: Wilkie Collins

Publisher: Penguin

First published: 1860

Number of Pages: 736

Price: Rs. 194 (Flipkart) / Rs. 224 (Amazon) / FREE (Kindle)*

My rating: 5/5

There is a certain happiness in ‘discovering’ a good book. Have you ever stumbled across a book on a shelf at a bookstore and picked it up on a whim and hours later, having read a couple of pages, you realise what good luck it was to have taken the bet?

This is precisely what I’d felt a couple of years ago when I’d stumbled across The Moonstone while browsing through Project Gutenberg. A cracking good plot set in Victorian England, mysterious characters from halfway across the world, a whodunit; The Moonstone had kept me hooked till the very last page. Add to this the fact that the book was written and first published in 1868, and I was even more impressed.

And so, when a couple of weeks ago, I picked up The Woman In White, I did so with great interest. I am pleased to report the book has exceeded all my expectations.

The book begins one late evening when one Mr. Walter Hartright is returning home to his place of lodgings in London from meeting his mother and sister who live on the outskirts of the city. The road is dark and lonely as it is close to the midnight hour when suddenly, he feels a hand upon his shoulder. He whirls around to see a beautiful young woman, dressed completely in white, looking at him. She asks him if he can point her to some place from where she can get a cab. He volunteers to walk with her till she can find one. They have a short conversation during their walk together which only mystifies young Hartright further. Soon after she gets a cab and leaves for a destination she does not reveal to him, he overhears a couple of men looking for her, saying that she had escaped from an asylum!

You would think his encounter with the lady ended here, but the mysterious presence continues to haunt him a couple of days later when Walter travels to north of England in his professional capacity. How Walter unravels the truth about the woman in white and their collective experiences forms the rest of the novel.

What impressed me most about this book was its suspense. I later discovered that this was a natural thing to happen, since the novel originally appeared in serialised form in Charles Dickens’ magazine All The Year Round. If a book written over 150 years ago still manages to keep an entirely different generation’s reader hooked on to every chapter, I say ‘Job well done’.

The language used in this book is beautiful. The descriptions of Laura Fairlie and Anne Catherick’s beauty, the charming country houses and their estates and even of some vast expanses of land often transport you to England as it would have been over a century ago. Add to that Walter Hartright’s beautiful confession of being in love and you wish he would go on just that little bit longer.

And how can I forget what made this book’s latter half the most enjoyable to me. In Count Fosco lives one of the most cunning and powerful villains I have come across in literature. The climactic scene, set in one long night at the Italian Count’s London residence, is full of tension. One can almost hear menace dripping whenever he speaks. The Count is very high on my list of favourite villains.

If I can fault this book at all, then it would be it’s length, which does seem too long towards the end. But this is a minor irritant compared to the joys over the couple of hours I spent reading this book.

A fantastic book, which I highly recommend. Read it alone at home on a stormy night at your own peril!

*Although the book is available as a free download, I highly recommend buying a copy of the Penguin classic which has a beautiful cover and seems well worth the price tag.

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(Disclosure: If you buy the book by clicking on any of the Amazon links above, you will NOT get charged extra. However, I will get a small commission, 100% of which will go to charity.)