lunabee34: (reading by tabaqui)
Man and WifeMan and Wife by Wilkie Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this although not so well as No Name or Woman in White. Man and Wife is very humorous and satirical. Collins is constantly poking fun at the conventions of the time, and he consistently hits the mark when he makes fun of Lady Lundie--the affected, bossy, and manipulative social butterfly. His book was intended to shed light on Scottish marriage laws (which really do sound utterly ridiculous and not at all a good idea), and the story does a good job of revealing their potential for harm. Collins's other thesis is one that amuses me a bit. The main antagonist of the story is an athlete who essentially ruins his body and his mind through exercise. Now, I'm totally on Collins's side when he asserts that national obsession with sports to the exclusion of the arts and the cultivation of the intellect is A Bad Thing, Indeed. I also agree with his implicit thesis that excellent male athletes are forgiven many faults that they shouldn't be because of their athletic prowess and that something is wrong when masculinity is defined solely as a product of physical ability. But to the modern reader, his idea that most people who strenuously exercise are risking paralytic stroke is a bit silly. I have to admit that I found the storyline for the most part predictable (girl is ruined; ruiner declines to marry her; her best friend's fiance is put into a contrived situation in which he appears to be married to her; this problem comprises the bulk of the novel; at the end, the situation is resolved and the best friend's fiance is off the hook) until I got to the last fourth of the book. Then it takes a really unexpected and gripping turn that belies the humor of the beginning. The athlete who ruins our virtuous heroine decides to kill her after he finds a written confession of murder, and the method he employs is really ingenious. The confession is incredibly dark and detailed, and the athlete's mental journey from Asshole to Murderer is fascinating to read. I also loved the very end in which Lady Lundie gets her final comeuppance. I really didn't see that coming.

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