But I shall persevere, for you guys, and I'll even avoid spoilers because it just wouldn't be fair to ruin Wilkie for anyone ever. That's just not cool.
So, Armadale begins with a SHOCKING confession, and from that moment just keeps on being mysterious and intriguing (and other words that sort of mean that same thing) and filled with AWESOME. The Armadale of the title is the name of not one, not two, but FOUR characters (only two of whom are really in the book) and although there are two Allan Armadales, the basis for great mystery in itself, only one of them goes by that name, and the other calls himself Ozias Midwinter (I know. I KNOW!) and they are a little team made in heaven. Because, although they're meant to be apart because of CIRCUMSTANCES that happened with their fathers (the other Armadales) these guys become friends and have a real bromance, that is, of course, upset by a woman.
And what a woman! Lydia Gwilt is described on the back of my copy as a 'flame-haired temptress' and, let's face it, I know we're all thinking of Red right now, but think that way no longer, for Lydia is also PURE EVIL. Well, she's addicted to her 'drops' (that's laudanum, to you and me) and she's probably done some things in her past that she's not too proud of, by which I of course mean murder (I'm not sure if that's a spoiler or not, since it's hinted at from early on, but, you know, too late now!). She's also stony broke, and her evil plan transpires to be one where she marries Armadale for his money, kills him, and then lives on £1200 a year. It's a pretty nifty plan to be honest, and once you know Armadale, it's not really one that you hate...
Because, Armadale, bless him, is kind of a moron. And by kind of a moron, I mean he's a posh idiot, in the vein of Hugh Laurie's character in Blackadder III, or basically anything other than House. It makes Lydia such a gratifying character, because until she comes along, everyone's like 'oh Allan, you're such a good guy', or 'he's soooo dreamy, and rich too!' but then she crops up and says things like "He's a rattle-pated young fool- one of those noisy, rosy, light-haired, good-tempered men, whom I particularly detest." and "to say that he was like a child is a libel on all children who are not born idiots". And I was just like, YOU CAN'T SAY THAT, IT'S THE VICTORIAN TIMES! And also, Miss Gwilt, I love you...
And, of course, Wilkie breaks all kinds of Victorian novel-y rules and preconceptions. There are letters, and diaries and accounts, and it begins with people who basically have nothing else to do with the story... Above all though, my favourite convention that he breaks is that of having some sympathy with the villain. And not just sympathy- whilst the first half of Armadale is pretty straightforward, two guys being friends, having freaky dreams (I wouldn't worry so much about the dream premonitions...) and meeting pretty ladies, the second half is devoted, almost entirely, to the inner workings of Miss Gwilt's mind. I'm not sure I've seen this before in a novel from the 1800s (not that I've read all that many, it's not really my time...) and I've definitely never seen a villain treated so sympathetically. I'm not sure if it's just because she's a woman villain, and hence must have some 'purity' or whatever in her, or because he really really dislikes Armadale (he does, it's fairly obvious), but Miss Gwilt? She's got layers.
Seriously, it's so interesting because, just at the point where everyone's going 'she's so evil, and I'll bet she's got a sordid past', Wilkie switches the narrative to her viewpoint, where we discover that she is basically up to no good, BUT that she's not totally beyond redemption. She is capable of love (and she didn't even think she was), and, most importantly, she's totally three dimensional, totally autonomous, and totally more interesting than the girl Armadale fancies. Remind you of anyone else? Clearly I sort of love Lydia, but I sort of hate her too, and I think that's entirely the point of her character. But really, listen to this:
"Why are we not perfectly reasonable in all that we do? Why am I not always on my guard and never inconsistent with myself, like a wicked character in a novel? Why? Why? Why?"My answer is, of course, that Wilkie is a great writer, because LAYERS! That's what we want our villains to have! And that's why Wilkie is the best, The End.
P.S. There's a bit towards the end of the book in a mental hospital (OF COURSE) that brought up something very not related to the plot, but very relevant to an ongoing feud I have with Alice about the depressingness of Norwegian Wood (Hi Alice! Hope you read this or this could be really pointless!). And in said mental hospital, the doctor says that he only allows books that he's pre-screened, because "There may be plenty that is painful in life- but, for that very reason, we don't want it in books", which seems to me to be Alice's viewpoint in a sentence, whereas I'm more like the fictional pain helps us to get through real pain, either past or present. Who is right? Alice and the doctor, or me (and, I guess, Murakami?). Just a thought, and if you actually read this, good for you! You get 10 points!