The Woman in White. Finished 7-6-15, rating 4.25/5, classic thriller, pub. 1860
Unabridged audio read by Ian Holm (Bilbo Baggins :)). 24 hours, 37 minutes. 783 pages (paperback). I both listened and read this one.
‘In one moment, every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop… There, as if it had that moment sprung out of the earth, stood the figure of a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white’
The Woman in White famously opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. Engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie, Walter becomes embroiled in the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco, who has a taste for white mice, vanilla bonbons, and poison. Pursuing questions of identity and insanity along the paths and corridors of English country houses and the madhouse, The Woman in White is the first and most influential of the Victorian genre that combined Gothic horror with psychological realism.
I first heard of Wilkie Collins from my fellow bloggers, he certainly hadn’t been on my radar before. I read ‘first gothic thriller’ and I knew I wanted to take a look. I mostly listened but there were times during the 24 hour audio that I just needed to know what happened so I followed along in the book. Published in 1860, it’s long and slow but very satisfying.
The story was told after the fact and by many different characters at Walter Hartright’s request. Walter had a chance encounter with a mysterious woman who was obviously fleeing someone the night before he left for Limmeridge House to become an art instructor for a young lady there. These two women, who looked eerily alike, are the heart of this mystery thriller. The story was full of twists and turns, heroes and villians and comic relief (my favorite chapter was written by Laura’s uncle, Mr. Fairlie, and it had me laughing out loud). I especially loved Laura’s strong half-sister Marian. She was a breath of fresh air in a book that takes place when women were more delicate and had no power without money or looks. I was rooting for her way more than Laura.
As the first successful gothic thriller I can say that it delivered. If published today it may have been quite a bit shorter since there were many lulls, but that only built up the suspense for me and let me enjoy the mystery a little bit longer. My husband had a hard time listening to the audio because he was frustrated with the language (listening during rush hour might not be the best idea). He gave up but I think if he’d given it some time his ears would have adjusted 🙂
A perfectly satisfying read for classic and mystery fans.