Right from the beginning of this book, you know something bad is going to happen. You don’t know what that bad thing is, but you know the characters are all giving their legal testimony. Then, throughout most of the novel, the tension keeps building and building and you find yourself thinking about all the absolutely terrible things that could happen to the characters – all of whom are very interesting and likeable. I’d describe it as a definitive page turner.
I don’t want to talk too much about the plot for fear of giving too much away and reducing the tension as you read through it, but essentially what happens is that a man encounters a strange woman in white out on the streets on night – soon after he gets a job creating art in the household of a rich family and finds that in that house is a woman who looks almost identical to the woman in white. What follows is the most intriguing storyline, full of twists and turns which take you in directions you’d have never imagined.
My two favourite characters were Marian Halcombe and Count Fosco. For as much as I do love ninteenth century literature, I have to admit that it can sometimes contain troublesome depictions of women. But that is not the case here. Marian Halcombe is probably a better developed and more interesting character than the book’s actual hero, Walter Hartright. She’s intelligent, pragmatic and to the point – probably one of the greatest literary heroes of that century. The section of the novel told from her perspective was definitely my favourite. Count Fosco, on the other hand, is a mysterious and unsettling character – he has a lot of jovial quirks, but you always have the impression that they’re there to hide something sinister. I won’t say whether or not my suspicions were correct, but he was a fascinating character, to say the least.
What I also admired about this book is that it highlighted that marriage as an institution, was not fair on women. It’s a very progressive book which highlights legitimate social issues and portrays abusive relationships in an eerily realistic light. Things are so intense that after one particular chapter, I was completely stunned; so shocked by what had happened, because I had been so deeply invested in the narrative.
It does have its weaknesses for sure, such as protagonist Walter Hartright being a bit of a generic hero and Laura Glyde (a very central character) never really getting properly developed, but these issues are small and take nothing away from the overall thrill of this novel. So if you’re looking for your next ride on an emotional rollercoaster, this might just be it…