Friday, 24 July 2015

Reading Wilkie: Armadale

I mentioned in my June in Books post a couple of weeks ago that I turned to Wilkie in my hour of need after a mini panic attack on the plane home from Verona. The book was Armadale, the only one of his four main novels that I had yet to read (the others being The Woman in White, No Name and The Moonstone).

I'm just going to start by saying that Armadale is not my favourite Wilkie. In fact it's probably correct to say that it is my least favourite, but the reading experience was just as exciting and engaging as ever. There is something about Wilkie's narration that draws you in and takes you along for the ride, even when the story itself or the characters fall flat for you somehow.

I found the characters to be much more two-dimensional than is typical. I never quite got a real sense of them; sure, I knew their idiosyncrasies and I could tell who was speaking without their name being attached, but they don't quite make it off the page like the Marian's and Fosco's and Betteredge's do.

Lydia Gwilt was by far the most engaging character. I'm actually still thinking about her situation a few days on and the moral conundrums are definitely still taxing my mind. Overall though, my feelings for her are very much undecided. Initially I thought she was wonderfully conniving and cunning - the very best of Wilkie's antagonists - but as the story continued and the narrative shifted to her diary my opinion began to change. It becomes clear very quickly that she is a product of her circumstances and very much a victim of patriarchal society. I actually wanted to give her a hug.

Wilkie does write the situation very well. As Lydia's world became more claustrophobic and the chances of success became less and less likely, those feelings spread beyond the page until I wanted to reach in and pull her out.

Ultimately Armadale was a couple of hundred pages too long, the characters (excepting Lydia) felt flat and samey, and the denouement didn't quite have the explosive effect I was looking for.

But, having said all that...

Reading Armadale was a treat. A calming, welcome, exciting treat.

I  have come to realise that reading Wilkie is not just something I enjoy, it's also something that is good for me. It's absorbing enough to be a distraction, has social commentary enough to make me think, has characters to entertain, and is dark yet positive enough to test me without flicking the mood switch in my brain to low.

Whether it's a short story, a novella, or novel, the effect is inevitably the same and inevitably leaves me with a smile on my face. Thanks Wilkie, for being exactly the writer you are.

Do you have an author that you can rely on to keep your mood balanced?

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