Lest someone intending to read this book is discouraged by the mixed nature of the reviews, let me state categorically - this is an enthralling and unputdownable Gothic mystery. It stands up to, and indeed surpasses, the profusion of thrillers and mystery novels of our time. To whatever extent it appears dated, it is only because of the social milieu of 150 years ago (which provides the reader with a fascinating window into that time), but the motivations and actions of the characters remain as compelling and realistic as if they were set in the 21st century.
From the very first chapter the reader is drawn into a web of intrigue, mystery and fear which doesn't let up till the denouement. The twists and turns create real tension and it is difficult to finish a chapter without wanting to press on to the next - quite an achievement for a novel of this length.
The reviewer who is complaining about the story presenting an inadequate feminist statement has obviously not paid attention to the character Marian Holcombe (the heroine's friend and alter ego). The nominal heroine Laura Fairlie IS relatively colourless, which is how she's been consciously portrayed by the author for good plot-related reasons, but that says nothing about the author's own feminist beliefs or non-beliefs. (Read Wilkie Collins' other novels No Name and Armadale if you are looking for strong female protagonists). In The Woman in White, you need to look out for that unforgettable character, Count Fosco.
A book not to be missed, even by those who are ambivalent towards the classics.
With an apparently cliched backdrop of a jewel stolen from an idol, Indian religious fanatics and theft/death at an English country house, this is a magnificent and unputdownable novel. The plot twists, red herrings and rich characters embody a sophistication that rivals and even surpasses that in more contemporary mystery fiction.
The legal case that provides the background to Bleak House is less memorable than the unforgettable assortment of characters, delineated with masterful word pictures, that are liberally scattered through it. This book is definitely not an easy read. But at the conclusion the reader is left with a vivid ringside-view impression of 19th century England and English society, at different levels, that neither history books nor paintings or photographs could have provided.
Along with several others of his early novels, Wodehouse clearly intends that the characters in this semi-humorous book be taken seriously. He succeeds in making us care for his characters in this absorbing drama which has some of his familiar themes of hard working youth striving to make good, the idle rich, and romance.
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