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!
Great review -- I absolutely have to read this immediately! So Armadale basically has a drug-addicted evil version of Marian? I am so there.ReplyDelete
I love how much Wilkie messes with Victorian conventions... Sigh.
A drug addicted evil version of Marian= Yes. Yes indeed. She's not quite as awesome as Marian, in a general characterish way, but she's still pretty awesome in a WOAH strong woman way. ARMADALE IS AWESOME!Delete
I loved the first quarter of this book, before Lydia showed up. When she showed up, I didn't find her at all an interesting or sympathetic character. To me, she felt like a completely incompetant villain with really thin plans that anyone should be able to see through, and the fact that they don't really irritated me. The book changed its whole plot after a quarter of the way in, and went completely downhill, until I ended up giving this book 2 stars. :(ReplyDelete
Oh nooo! But but but Lydia! She's so nasty, and yet so so right about Allan! I do agree that the others should have seen through her plans though, BUT I feel like the fact that they didn't was quite indicative of their characters, in that THEY'RE ALL STUPID (except maybe Midwinter, but... he's in lurve!) But yeah, I ended up kind of liking her because she's all complex and stuff- but I can totally see how liking/disliking her is a huuuge like factor in liking this book or not.Delete
I AM RIGHT. I AM ALWAYS RIGHT.ReplyDelete
This sounds totally amazing. Because WLIKIIIIIE! And I'm bummed we're not just reading all the Wilkie as a readalong...omg, you know what? We should forget The Monk AND READ MORE WILKIE AS A READALONG. AND THAT WILL BE A THING. We should read The Moonstone or something. 'Cause that's his other big one.
But yeah, so I have to read Armadale now, because daaaaamn.
Yeah, but that doctor is a bad guy, and the people he thinks can't cope with like the sad sad books are crazy people, soooo... yeah.Delete
I TOTALLY WANT ANOTHER WILKIE READALONG PLEASE CAN WE DO THAT PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE?! I happen to know that Megs has a copy of The Moonstone already, and also, EVERYONE LOVES WILKIE! WILKIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!
Also, read Armadale. It's the awesomest!
I HAVE A COPY OF THE MOONSTONE ALREADY! IT'S TRUEEEEEEE.Delete
I've read Woman in White and The Moonstone but not this. I love Wilkie so I must get to it asap!ReplyDelete
Yay! Do! I highly recommend it (obviously!)Delete
Noooo! You cannot read Wilkie without readalong awesomeness!ReplyDelete
But then again, this review was as awesome as a miniature-readalong and I am already loving Armadale without ever having heard of it before. Also, huzzah for Hugh Laurie.
I hope it's not the evil drops-addicted (clearly the best euphemism ever) Marian who ends up in the mental hospital, because then it would be like a reverse Woman in White and I would be confused.
Oh, and in the feud you are definitely on the right side (because you're obviously on Murakami's side). I could be your fugleman (fuglewoman? I'm confused already.) Stupid evil doctor. Norwegian Wood is sooo not depressing.
I know, I really should wait for readalongs to do such things! I... don't want to say about the mental hospital! I will say that it's not really a massive plot point, and no one's really there because they're crazy, and that's ALL I will say!Delete
Norwegian Wood is wonderful! You can be on my team Murakami! We'll show that doctor/Alice!
Excellent, I'm a flame-haired temptress addicted to my drops. Also Ozias Midwinter??? Seriously! Why didn't we have a readalong for this?? OK no one is to read anymore Wilkie without a readalong because this guy just provides us with pure gold.ReplyDelete
I AGREE WITH ALLEY.Delete
Clearly, this is true. And one review just isn't enough for how awesome Armadale is! (I realise I could have done more than one by myself, but meh, I'm laaazy) You are clearly Lydia though (you're going to be so sad when you read this cause she's not so nice! And you are! Oh well... the Laudanum will make it alllll better hehe)Delete
Holy WILKIE, this book sounds amazing. He really won us over didn't he? We were all prepared to hate him, and then he went SURPRISE I'M AWESOME.ReplyDelete
Regarding your feud with Alice, I'm afraid I have to agree with you in a personal sense...but it really is a personal preference. I really like to dwell on morbid and upsetting things, in books AND movies, but I certainly have friends and a mother who feel that it's a waste of time to think about sad/bad things. I don't think either way is the RIGHT way...but I think you're right. ;)
I've never been more surprised by an author, I don't think! I heard friends with Dickens, and I was very very uncertain!Delete
Dude, my/our way is totally the right way!!!!! But I *suppose* I can let it be a personal preference thing... *sigh*. It's not even that I necessarily want to dwell on the sad things, but it's like, I just think it's healthy to do so, and it might like let out feelings that you might not always be able to express in real life (and by you I mean me). It's just like... sad things happen, and if they happen to you and you don't really know what to do, but then you read about a similar thing in a book... I just think that's really helpful, and makes you feel all, non-alone, you know? Catharsis, man!
Very true. I worry a little when people are reluctant to face unpleasant realities that happen to be delivered via fiction. It seems to me that the more you know, the better...always. But if I try really hard, I can understand the other side of the argument. But for me, catharsis all the way!Delete
I've never even heard of this one! I love how the book blog world introduces me to books. I'd never heard of Rebecca du Maurier either!ReplyDelete
I began reading Armadale as a proposed dissertation text when I was in my last year of my undergrad (my dissertation was on female criminals in Victorian Literature) but for some reason I never finsished it and focused on three other novels instead. I love Wilkie Collins' writing, so I definitely need to hunt down a copy of this again and finish it.ReplyDelete
Ah, I really enjoy Wilkie Collins. Thus far I've only read Heart and Science (one of his lesser-known novels), but I've got three other Collins novels on my shelves waiting to be read.ReplyDelete
And now I'm dying to read Armadale, too! Thanks for your fantastic thoughts. :)