Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Wilkie Collins - Peter Ackroyd

This is a very short biography of Collins.  Collins himself was very short but extraordinarily productive, thus in 183 pages Ackroyd can only delve deeply into the best sellers - The Woman in White and The Moonstone.  He nevertheless manages to cover the others in a way that sparks my interest in reading them, which I assume was one of the aims.  Ackroyd can do this because he is such a fine writer.  He summarises the plots of these enormous potboilers in a paragraph or less yet always hits the salient point.  Mention of a blind girl who falls in love with a man who's turned himself blue certainly caught my attention.  I only wish the index was good enough to help me establish which book this was.

I've always been interested in Collins.  I bought Catherine Peter's The King of Inventors when it first came out in paperback in the early Nineties.  I no longer have it because it was a clunking great brick of a book, over-detailed and colossally dull, even though that was the first book I came across which discussed Collins' extraordinary love life (never married but maintained a longterm cohabitant and fathered a family with another woman whom he housed separately).  Ackroyd naturally includes this aspect of Collins' life but doesn't provide enough detail about the women involved.

The fact is, this is a poorly published book (to look at it, you'd never guess it came out in 2012) in which Ackroyd canters charmingly through other people's research.  It's an introduction, at best an overview, a taster to encourage the interested to look elsewhere.


  1. Wilkie Collins is the best detective writer, who as for me is far ahead of his time. He undermines Edgar Poe or Arhur Conan Doyle, etc. Anyway, thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Maria. I remember the first time I read Woman in White - blew me away. After much hassle I have just managed to track down a copy of Collins's short story The Diary of Anne Rodway, reputedly the first female detective story ever. By the way, I disliked the Ackroyd book so much that I felt compelled to buy another copy of King of Inventors, which I disliked mightily back in the Nineties, just to reassure me that there is substance out there.