Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I think Wilkie Collins just blew my mind

This post is part of the Classics Circuit; please visit the site for more stops on the Wilkie Collins Tour!

Wilkie Collins

I just don't get it. I don't understand how anyone can take a story as impossible and outrageous as this one and make it not only credible, but convincing. Clearly, the man was a master.

The events of Armadale (more incredible than those of The Woman in White and The Moonstone) nearly defy easy summary. Long story short, two men end up with the same name of Allan Armadale. One kills the other. Each has a son, also named Allan Armadale, who grows up never knowing of his "other." Years pass, and -- you guessed it -- they meet. (Cue dramatic music.) Then things get REALLY complicated.

There's more, of course -- lots more (the above is really only the first 100 pages of an 800+ monster). As in my previous encounters with Wilkie, the plot hinges on coincidence after coincidence, yet things never feel contrived even though they clearly are. Wilkie makes the impossible possible.

Armadale is also interesting for its comment on identity and the nature of free will. Are the sons of the first generation bound by the sins of their fathers? Can they redeem their fathers? And what of Lydia Gwilt, one of the most fascinating, corrupt villains I've had the pleasure of meeting? In an early glimpse into her character, she writes, "I am in one of my tempers to-night. I want a husband to vex, or a child to beat, or something of that sort. Do you ever like to see the summer insects kill themselves in the candle? I do, sometimes." And that's what she says when she's being charming! I don't want to say too much about her and ruin the fun, but trust me -- Armadale is worth reading for Lydia Gwilt alone.

An utterly fascinating, entertaining, and intelligent novel, Armadale exceeded even my high expectations. What seems like a confusing premise is anything but confusing in its execution. In fact, Armadale might have just toppled The Woman in White. I adored Count Fosco, but he is simply no match for Lydia Gwilt.

In a nutshell: How do you do it, Wilkie? I want to learn the ways of the Force.

Bibliolatry Scale: 6 out of 6 stars

FTCBS: I proudly paid for this one! (In fact, I snagged the Oxford edition AND a free Kindle edition, so I always had it at my fingertips!)


Unknown said...

I enjoyed your review very much. I've been meaning to read another W. Collins book for some time. I have to look for Armdale. Sounds like lots of fun.

Madeleine said...

Ok, this is not about W. Collins but sort of. Last night I started "DROOD" by Dan Simmons and had to put it down because I had to go to sleep so I would not be a zombie this morning. So far I love it. I I am glad you liked it 'a lot'I love your reviews and many of the books you read.

raych said...

I would be so excited about this, except that my library only carries it in e-book form! And me with nary an e-reader!!!


Orrrrr I'll just see what I can squeeze out of the used book store.

Ana S. said...


Excellent review.

Trisha said...

Collins, Collins, Collins! I swear I've been chanting his name for a month in a sort of geek-mantra. I'm so glad so many of my fellow bloggers like him as much as I do!

Sadat Jabeen said...

Good review. I have made an instant decision to read the book! :-)

Rebecca Reid said...

Oh this sounds so incredible! I really really want to go read it right now.

Thanks for joining the circuit!!

jspeyton said...

I'm putting the finishing touches on "No Name" now (and loving every minute of it), and just as soon as I'm done with it I'm starting this one! Maybe then my appetite for Collins will be satisfied. Great review!

Rebecca Reid said...

I just finished this the other day. I LOVE it. And I'm with you on wondering how Wilkie Collins possibly did it. So wonderful!