Apr/May 2004 Book Reviews

Blind Love

Wilkie Collins
Broadview (2004) 465 pages

reviewed by Kevin McGowin

The late Wilkie Collins' Blind Love is quite simply the best "literary" suspense novel yet published in 2004. While he died before he could finish it, the closure is fairly seamless, as Mr. Collins left copious plot notes and fragments to his obviously capable executor, Walter Besant; and while the reader might feel a little bogged down by the novel's constant references to historic Anglo-Irish politics (Collins of course being British), the great author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone has again succeeded in creating a captivating Literary Page-Turner.

The novel itself is actually only about 300 pages. But because of the potentially arcane references, and because Collins died before he himself could complete it, Broadview gives us a very great deal of supplementary reading—the plot is based on actual events, for one thing (though they occurred in Austria and Germany and France, and to some degree, even Brooklyn), and the publisher elucidates the facts of the case for us with both essays and newspaper accounts, as the events (we'll just call them a case of "fraud", no Spoilers in my reviews) happened some time ago). The publisher also takes great pains to include several short essays—mostly on the Anglo-Irish references and on the Working Notes Collins left after his death— in addition to reprints of a few obituaries and essays that underscore Collins' place as the hugely influential writer he was, so much so that Vanity Fair wrote that the man veritably invented sensation in the novel. The essays also include information on the progress of the novel as the ailing and aging Collins wrote it.

As always, Broadview does their author and the author's fans more than right—great cover art, wonderful paper, reasonable price. I admit that all the addendum is a bit much this time, though—I suppose the publisher knows this is a work of such quality that they'll be teaching it in College soon, or something. But hey, I'm not complaining. I knew the book was "out there" but not available, and while Wilkie Collins was British and old and a little out-of-fashion here in America (another concern of Broadview's, obviously), when I read in October they were going to be bringing it out this year, I got my name on the list then.

And I'm not for a second disappointed. I said it was a real page-turner—it is, too, in the sense that I was totally into it with the first chapter, and couldn't put the thing down! It's fast-paced—fifty-five chapters of just a few pages each—and for me, this is what a Suspense novel should be, something that doesn't beat around the proverbial bush and just gets in and rocks! Sure, I've been a Collins fan since I was about ten, and didn't need all the supplementary information, but my advice is just to read the thing, and then if you need some kind of clarification, cool—you don't have to wait ten years for the next edition.

It's also selling Collins a little short to take him merely as a "suspense" novelist—there's the whole bag here (the Suspense has to be about things, right?), romance, greed, violence, elements of espionage and horror even. And Grace and Class in the writing—this dude wasn't just another paperback "genre" writer. That's where the "Literary" comes into the classification, and as with all works of fiction worth that title, one comes away from Blind Love with their eyes open to lots of other really fascinating real-life stuff, too—and it's also a fairly withering Social Satire which, like the greatest social satires, is really about Human Folly in general, the characters and situations being just examples or microcosms. And it's more than even that—it's playful in parts, even laugh-out-loud hilarious (one word: bigamy) at the same time as the characters are doing the most reprehensible crap they can muster and Collins's Narrator is telling you about it in this eloquent, serious-sounding prose. I can and have parodied Dickens, Faulkner, and the Holy Bible, but I couldn't write like this guy for a page. For a paragraph.

—Make you wanna read it yet?

One thing that's disconcerting to me as a Reviewer of a truly "worth-it" book, like this one, is that Broadview ain't Random House or one of their imprints, or Zondervan, whose Purpose-Driven books you can buy at Wal-Mart (that's a good place for them, too). It's a smallish Canadian publishing house that puts out only the Best—Amazon or B&N may not have the thing in stock unless you special order it! But in the Interest of Full Disclosure, the ISBN is 1-55111-447-X, and Broadview's online at broadviewpress.com. And this is kind of special, in a way—books with first press run's the size of King's or Grisham's tend to age just about as well as those guy's books do. But with Broadview, it's First Vintage all the way. Hell, I wish they'd publish me! I'll take one novel put out by Broadview for three put out by Rupert Murdoch. I mean it, guys. I'm in this, be it online or in print, simply because I love it.

Like I love Blind Love, which I'm now re-reading because I just can't get enough of it! (The Wilkie Collins novel, not Nerve.com, I mean). And this time, it occurs to me, wow—it almost seems like he actually wrote this quite some time ago, even though it's just now out. It did first appear in serialized form over in England before they published the book there, for one thing.

But whatever—who cares, man. It is the bomb—2004's best New Release yet, in a year that is shaping up to have a Relative Paucity of them. And Collins could have written this book in 19-OH-4 for all the hell I care (of course he didn't, he wasn't even alive then)—because now, it's finally been published, and I've got it. I'm just sorry he's dead now and won't be writing any more—but that's purely selfish, when what I should (and now will) say publicly, to his friends and family, is that I was genuinely saddened to hear of his death, this man who has given me, and the world of Literature, so very much.

Because just as it's not he with the most toys who wins, it's the person who gets their Great Ideas down on paper (even Virtually, like this), Wilkie Collins confirms for me what I've long suspected to be true: that the Meaning of Life is to find something worth reading.


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