Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Moonstone Readalong, part one: Betteredge and Clack


"When I came here from London with that horrible Diamond," [said Mr Franklin] "I don't believe there was a happier house in England than this. Look at the household now! Scattered, disunited - the very air of the place poisoned with mystery and suspicion."

The Moonstone of the title is a huge, beautiful diamond stolen from India by a British officer and smuggled back to England. On his deathbed he leaves the diamond to his estranged granddaughter Rachel Verinder, but is it a genuine gift and symbol of his repentence, or a curse? This diamond carries a lot of superstition, and its rightful owners want it back, at whatever cost. Then the Moonstone disappears...

The story is told by several narrators, each telling only the part of the story to which they personally witnessed, in order, allegedly, to get a rounded and accurate account of the mystery surrounding the diamond's disappearance. However, the narrators have their own biases and prejudices, and are not entirely reliable; the evidence they present varies from the conclusion they want you to draw.

Take Betteredge, for example. Gabriel Betteredge is the head of the servants in the Verinders' house, and he absolutely adores his mistress and their family. In his eyes, neither Lady Verinder nor her daughter Rachel can do any wrong. He is an old-fashioned sort of fellow, chivalrously condescending, but sweet enough to get away with all kinds of patronising attitudes without more than a raised eyebrow from the reader. His bible is Robinson Crusoe; it is astonishing what comfort and wisdom he can find in that book whenever his peace of mind is disturbed.

Betteredge's loyalty to "his" family puts him rather at odds with the detective, Sergeant Cuff, who seems too eager to actually solve the mystery of the moonstone, inconveniently following all the clues, even those which might incriminate members of the family. It amused me to see Betteredge growing more and more exasperated with Cuff as he continued in his investigations. Betteredge might not like the sergeant at all, but I thought he was a great character; a predecessor to Sherlock Holmes, and a bit of an eccentric, coming to blows with the gardener over their differing opinions about the rose garden. Cuff also made me think of Lt. Columbo; less bumbling but just as irritating to the people around him, with his inconvenient questions - and his thoughtful whistling as the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place.

By the end of the first part of the novel, a lot of the answers seem clear, yet there is still a lot of the book still to go. After Betteredge's section, we relocate with Rachel and Lady Verinder to London, and we meet a new narrator: Miss Clack. This dreadful woman is exactly what you would expect with a name like that: a finicky, pious, interfering old maid who has taken on a mission to convert the entire country with a ready supply of religious tracts. Though rather a caricature, I couldn't help but think she must have been based on some real-life lady or ladies Wilkie must have met on his travels. I'm sure she means well, but she is so heavy-handed, bludgeoning everyone with her evangelism, seeing them only as souls in desperate need of her spiritual wisdom, rather than people who could do with a bit more earthly compassion from time to time. As a result, her effect on people that she met was both sad and funny; it became somewhat of a running joke that just a few words from her would provoke a horrified and profane reaction from each hearer. Her desperate attempts to reach her family by hiding her books and pamphlets ("Satan in the Hair Brush," "Satan under the Tea Table," and "Satan among the Sofa Cushions") in every nook and cranny made me chortle, as did her "Preparation by Little Notes" - if Rachel would not read the pamphlets, perhaps she might benefit from reading some choice passages copied out in letter format? Miss Clack's determination to get her message to its intended recipient reminded me of the barrage of owls carrying Harry Potter's first letter from Hogwarts. Poor dear; tact is utterly alien to her, and despite being hilariously awful, you can't help feeling sorry for her as her efforts alienate everyone she cares for, leaving her all alone.

Since we left Yorkshire for London, the mystery of the moonstone seems to have taken a back seat. Since Sergeant Cuff has been sent on his way, no one seems that concerned about tracking the gem's whereabouts. It is not forgotten, but seems to be treated as an unpleasantness that is in the past and not to be mentioned; that if no one speaks of the mystery, perhaps it will go away of its own accord.

Somehow, I think that's not going to happen.

10 comments:

  1. Aw, I read The Moonstone in a readalong last year, and it was THE MOST FUN, so I'm wistfully reading them back, as well as reading everyone else's posts! Clack is the WORST WORST WORST but also the best because she's hilaaaaarious. I just love this book so much.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She really is awful, and yet you have to feel sorry for her, because everyone runs away screaming the minute she opens her mouth. Her book and pamphlet titles are hilarious, and the way she goes around hiding them everywhere... classic! She just doesn't take no for an answer.

      Delete
  2. "chivalrously condescending" is the *perfect* way to describe Betteredge! I can't decide who I like more, Betteredge or Clack. Betteredge is probably the better person, but Clack is hilarious in her conniving ways.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Both are hilarious, but I think only one would be fun to know in real life.

      Delete
  3. Awww, Betteredge. I love that he's a book fanboy too, even if it's only for ONE book, rather than ALL THE BOOKS. I can't wait to meet Miss Clack - I haven't quite managed to get started on her yet, but by all accounts I'm in for a treat! And YES, Sergeant Cuff reminds me so much of Sherlock. When he's all like, "I HAVE THEORIES... but I'm bored so get out of the way so I can go spar with the gardener." He's aloof and funny and brutally honest. I like that. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've never read Robinson Crusoe, but I find it difficult to understand how much everyday advice and wisdom you could find in one book about a man marooned on a desert island. Then again, I think you learn more from a good novel than all the self-help books you could wish for. (Maybe that's just the way my mind works.)

      Delete
  4. Miss Clack's determination to get her message to its intended recipient reminded me of the barrage of owls carrying Harry Potter's first letter from Hogwarts.

    Oh Katie, this is too perfect. I now have a wonderful image of my head of two Victorian women flapping around the room, chased by flying pamplets titled A Word On Your Bonnet Ribbons.

    You have genuinely made my evening.

    ...no one seems that concerned about tracking the gem's whereabouts.

    I KNOW, RIGHT? Nobody seems in the slightest bit bothered about where the damn thing has actually got to. They wonder about it absently, in a moment of passivity, but that's about it. It drove me mad!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :D :D Glad to help! It's a wonderful image.

      Delete
  5. I'm just reading this saying 'I know, right?!' in my head to everything. I don't think Miss Clack would know what tact was if it got up and slapped her round the face. Poor woman, she is terrible but you can't help feeling sorry for such a rampant spinster. I love Betteredge, particularly when he starts feeling the detective fever rise up in him...many many giggles to be had in his narrative. Lovely to read your thoughts :) I hope the rest of the novel lives up to the promise of the first.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Betteredge is just as funny in other people's narrative - he is hilariously passive-aggressive towards the end. Wonderful character, and my favourite narrator of the lot.

      Delete

Come and say hello! I don't bite (well, except at the full moon...)

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...