Thursday, September 11, 2003

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Quite the best Really Good Book I've read in ages. 700 pages of jolly small print.

I firmly believe that, if it wasn't so very long, it would be read by everyone. At school. Several times. With a song in their heart.

It's got everything in it, which is really surprising when you consider it was written in 1864.

Both Woman in White and Moonstone were, i remember, strangely fabulous. This one is... well... intriguing, cos I had no idea where it's going. It's got heaps and buckets of atmosphere. It begins with a rivettingly nasty backstory narrated by a paralysed man dying of syphillis. As he talks, his wife is standing forlornly in the room, and their child is playing with his toy soldiers, staging battles on his father's crippled hands.

Every 200 pages or so, the story changes gear and shifts sideways into a new book - it's a bit like a Robertson Davies sequence, as the story romps from German death rooms to a Carribbean tale of pirates, to an English country town mystery, to a London Victorian spy thriller, ending up with a murderer stalking the corridors of an insane asylum.

It really is the most incredible book, presided over by the ghouslishly beautiful, and thoroughly evil Lydia Gwilt: forger, prostitute, bigamist and poisoning psychopath. With great hair, and some musical talent.

I urge you to read it. At the very least, I urge you to buy it - it's very thick and serious and looks great on shelves.

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