Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No Name - Wilkie Collins

no name
wilkie collins
c. 1862
610 pages
completed 12/22/2010

read for: wilkie collins mini challenge, penguin classics

*may contain spoilers*

The hands on the hall clock pointed to half-past six in the morning.

Andrew Vanstone and his lady have a secret. Despite having two daughters who are quite grown up (Norah is 26 and Magdalen 18), Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone have only just last week gotten married. Due to English law in the 1840s, a wedding makes any previously written will completely null and void and unless specifically provided for, any illegitimate children unable to inherit. On their way to a lawyer to rewrite their will, Mr. and Mrs. Vanstone are accidentally killed, leaving Magdalen and Norah's future in the hands of their miserly and cruel uncle. Once realizing their uncle has no plans of following his brother's intentions and providing for her and her sister, Magdalen ventures into London with the aide of a charming swindler and his wife with a plot to reclaim her fortune and her name.

Out of the three Wilkie Collins novels I've read so far, this is probably my least favorite. That being said, it's still one of my favorite reads of 2010. Wilkie Collins has definitely become one of my favorite authors, and I plan to read many, many more of his works. Unlike the others I've read, No Name wasn't a mystery or detective novel. There were some mysterious happenings in the first few chapters, but the family secret was quickly revealed as the major conflict for our heroine and not the end discovery. As such, No Name became a revenge thriller, with Magdalen Vanstone fighting to reclaim her fortune and more importantly her identity. In this novel, Wilkie Collins made sure to include a good deal of social commentary on inheritance laws of the time, some of which seem quite bizarre (such as a wedding completely voiding any wills previously made by the couple, either male or female). Magdalen lost her name and her fortune on a mere technicality, despite the obvious plans of her beloved father.

For me, the story took a little while to really pick up, which is why I've labeled it as my least favorite among the three. Magdalen didn't really begin her schemes of revenge until well after half the book had gone by. I realize that certain things needed to be established, such as her family life before the deaths of her parents and her ability on the stage, and those parts were interesting and well written, but 300 pages is a lot to go through before the REAL story starts. Once she took up with Captain Wragg and she began her battle of wits against her enemy's housekeeper Mrs. Lecount (who was rather reminiscent of Count Fosco from The Woman in White) things really took off and became unput-down-able. Their scams were pretty ingenious and well executed and actually made me quite anxious through a good deal of them. So while not as consistently exciting as some of his other suspense novels, in the end it was still an incredibly thrilling read.


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