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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Book Review: Sensation Stories by Wilkie Collins

This collection contains ten stories that were originally printed in various periodical publications including Household Words and Bentley's Miscellany. Most of them have been out of print for a century and many of them are very enjoyable. The introduction offers something of a crash course in Wilkie Collins for the uninitiated but I jumped straight into the stories.

A couple are notable for their reliance on supernatural elements. 'The Last Stage Coachman' is an eerie tale of a way of life lost while 'The Clergyman's Confession' builds to a supernatural climax that doesn't feel out of place in the collection. The most well-known story of the book is probably, I would guess, 'A Terribly Strange Bed'. I've certainly come across references to it within my studies and it really is a startling tale about a gambler who stays in a rather unique bed. 'The Diary of Anne Rodway' is an excellent depiction of a woman mourning the loss of her best friend. She refuses to accept a verdict of accidental death and tracks down the man responsible. Dickens apparently loved this story which is recommendation enough.

'Nine O'Clock' is an odd French Revolution piece which combines clairvoyance with more traditional themes. 'The Fourth Poor Traveller' is a nice little detective story which didn't make too much of an impression on me whereas 'The Dream Woman' stuck in my mind for some time after reading it. It involves a dream prophecy of a woman with a knife and shouldn't be read last thing at night! 'A Marriage Tragedy' is probably one of the most developed and intricate pieces, following a widow through the eyes of her servant as she remarries. 'Who Is The Thief?' is another detective story but a humorous one while 'Love's Random Shot' is an odd story about a married man who falls in love with a woman of dubious character. This last story in the collection is the least accomplished of the lot and seems a bizarre choice to conclude the collection on.

However, anyone interested in Wilkie Collins and his fiction could do worse than giving this a go. Some of the stories are gems and all have his distinct trademark style, occasionally tongue-in-cheek but always detailed.

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