Thursday 1 March 2012


This novel contains many things. Some of them are:

 - A love story between Walter, a surprisingly determined and resourceful young man and Laura, a remarkably bland and passive young woman who makes only two decisions in this book, one of which precipitates an avalanche of misfortunes upon her and all who love her

- A portrait of Marian, an intelligent, loyal, courageous and strong woman who is relegated to second fiddle to Laura, the dippy blonde and because her dark complexion and somewhat manly features make her seem ugly in the eyes of the surprising Walter and the author

- One of the most formidable and complex villains in Victorian literature, a fat, handsome, swaggering, bragging, genteel, devious, brilliant Napoleon of crime who goes by the name of Count Fosco

- A twisted tale of illicit love, illegitimate births and dire deceptions carried out by or on behalf of people whose births, whether high or low, are revealed to have shattering secrets attendant upon them

- A tale of secret political societies and the terrible vengeance they exert on those who betray them

- The heart-rending story of Anne, a simple-minded young girl who never knew much kindness and lost all in the end

In short, a crowded, complicated novel full of thrills and chills. I do have a few complaints though. First of all, the structure of the plot is rather drawn-out and elliptical. It's told in the form of memoirs, diaries and testimonials compiled from various principals and bit-players and this leads to several annoying redundancies and losses of momentum along the way. There's a reason why limited or omniscient points of view have become the preferred formats for epic stories like this. Worst of all, when the remarkable Fosco finally gets to speak his piece, it turns out to be a damp squib because the broad strokes of his narrative have already been unearthed by the surprisingly heroic Walter.

Also, there's a void at the heart of the novel - Laura, the bland blonde whom Walter falls for and moves heaven and earth for. She has a bare few lines of dialogue and is generally treated as a simpleton and a child be everyone around her, and indeed, she seems to possess few character traits other than a certain passive benignity and one single spark of decisiveness which as it turns out dooms her to a loveless, disastrous marriage. Her cousin, the dusky, daring Marian emerges as a far more alluring character but apparently the only person who is able to perceive this is the foul-hearted yet perceptive Fosco. I could have done with far less swooning over the milksop Laura and more of Marian's quiet, forceful intellect.

Still, there you have it: a Gothic-derived novel shading into the modern tale of mystery, suspense and detection. And a rattling good story, if not without its flaws.

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