My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I do adore Wilkie Collins’ writing, but this sad Gothic tale was seriously depressing from start to finish. In this story, the main character Basil sees a young woman in the street, and instantly falls in love with her. He meets her briefly, and learns that her name is Margaret. Later he approaches her father, and the two are married within a couple of weeks with the proviso that Margaret remain living with her family until her 18th birthday. So Basil is married in name only and can only visit Margaret with her mother as a chaperone. During this time, Basil meets Mr. Mannion, a family friend of his in-laws, but the man is so strange and mysterious that Basil can’t decide if Mannion is friend or foe.
There’s horror and betrayal and violence, insanity and disease and death; Gothic literature at its finest! The plot is rather obvious, but told with such energy that it still holds the reader’s interest. The atmosphere in the book is very shocking and lurid for a classic. Every character is always half-insane or on their way there, because of the mental and emotional strain they are under all the time. This tension creates a feeling of suspense, even though the plot is not especially suspenseful.
As always, I love that Collins’ main character has a high sense of honor and duty, a sensitive nature, and a compassionate and self-sacrificing heart. The heroes in his books are just my kind of fellas! But this one, Basil, got on my nerves. He has all those qualities that I love, but he has no common sense, no street smarts, no wisdom about human nature. He is taken advantage of by nearly everybody because of his kind nature, and he has no circumspect vision to see when people are plotting against him or lying to him.
Then again, I hate those qualities in Basil’s character, because that is EXACTLY my own personality. I’m always getting walked on because I’m kind and generous to everyone, and I am very gullible. I never imagine that people would and are going behind my back, lying to me, and generally making trouble, because I imagine everyone to be as truthful and good-hearted as I am myself. Basil is just like that. He can’t imagine why anyone would want to lie or seek revenge or steal from him, and so he sails headlong into disaster with his eyes shut. Oh, Basil, you stupid fool. You’re too good and sweet to live in a dark world like this one.
The villains are particularly villainous in this book, and they come in all shapes and sizes: The selfish girl without a heart, the greedy businessman with a tendency towards blackmail, the disturbed monomaniac utterly focused on revenge.
There are also some more complex characters who walk the line between good and bad, and some unexpected heroes who surprised me by popping in at the end.
All in all, a deliciously passionate and wild classic with Collins’ wonderful writing style that I have come to know and love!