First Impressions: The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins (1868)

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The Independent Culture

Mr Wilkie Collins's new book is very suggestive of a game called "button", which children used to play.

A number of little folks being seated in a circle, each with hands placed palm to palm in front of him, one of the party, who holds a button, comes in turn to each of the others, and drops it into his closed hands. Of course, but one of the party can receive it, but in each case the same motions are gone through with; and having made his rounds, the principal performer enquires, "Who's got the button?" Each one, including him who has it, but who intentionally misleads the rest, guesses at the puzzle, and he who guesses right carries the button at the next trial. The Moonstone riddle is so like in its essential features to this child's-play, that it might very well have been suggested by it. Mr Collins's art consists, in this particular case, in converting the button into a yellow diamond, worth 30,000 pounds, which turns out at last, like most of Mr Collins's mysteries, to have no vital connection with his characters, considered as human beings, but to be merely extraneous matter thrown violently into the current of his. It would perhaps be more correct to say that there is no story at all, and that the characters are puppets, grouped with more or less art around the thing the conjurer wishes to conceal until the time comes for displaying it.

One might say of the book, that it is like a pantomime the characters appear to speak but say nothing. Mr Collins ventriloquises behind each of his puppets, in order to give a sufficient number of misleading sounds. But his art is bad, and he has not art enough – his voice always betrays him, and the reader is never deceived into thinking that it is anybody but Mr Collins that is talking. We do not know of any books of which it is truer than of Mr Collins's to make the damaging remark, that nobody reads them twice, and that when the end of the first perusal is reached, everybody thinks his time has been wasted.