I must confess that initially I had thought that this would be a ghost story. The title is very mysterious and the cover made the woman in white appear ethereal. Generally I try to not read too much about a book before I begin. I like to just let it unfold as I read.
Anyway, despite my initial misconception, I loved this book. It had a great build-up, amazing characterizations, and the "just right" ending.
It is told in pieces from varying viewpoints which give it the flavor of individual perception. As in real life we all 'think' we know what we saw but is it really what occured? I enjoyed being in the shoes of different observers as I tried to piece together what was happening. Also, I must say that when I read a passage written in the diary of one of the main characters by an outide person, I got tremendous goosebumps.
The novel begins with an art teacher, Walter Hartright who comes to the home of a Ms. Fairlie to instruct her in drawing techniques. This Ms. Fairlie is pretty darn fair so there is love in the air; but unfortunately she is to be wed to a Sir Percival. Her half-sister Marian is there to watch the flame between the two grow but advises that the proper course must be taken and Mr. Hartright is soon sent on his way. After his departure things become complicated. Sir Percival is too good to be true and has some Jerry Springerish things lurking in his closet. Hartright goes into the deepest darkest locations to try and forget his true love and we meet one of the best characters ever, Count Fosco.
For the longest time I couldn't tell if Fosco was the good or bad guy. But that in my opinion is what makes a good story. Fosco was such an oxymoron and very complex. He truly made most of the story and it was a worthwhile endeavor getting to know him.
I love how Collins sneaks in bits that are subtle but say a whole heck of a lot. I don't need everything spelled out for me and I enjoy a writer who can trust his readers to interpret as they wish.
Another observation is how delicate women were percieved to be at the time. The smallest emotional discomfort could set your health back for weeks. Thankfully Marian, for the most part, broke that mold. She was strong and smart!
Collins is the master of mystery in this book. I read the book and also listened to it on Librovox. This is the first time I have tried this approach with a book and I must say that it really worked in terms of getting a more complete experience of Collin's writing. A great experience and I enjoyed every page.