Finishing this audiobook felt like an achievement. The book is long and complex and required concentration and commitment. But what a journey it has been!
As is the case with the only other of Wilkie Collins' novels I have read to date, The Moonstone, the book is structured as a number of separate narratives, each narrator telling their own part of the story in the first person. There is something about this way of telling a story that I find very appealing. Characters only tell what they know, and the reader has the fun of trying to determine the reliablity of each individual narrator. And some narrators are certainly more reliable than others! The narrators in the audiobook were excellent and brought the characters to life.
It is quite an achievement to make such a long novel a page-turner. At times in the middle section my mind wandered slightly, although I didn't miss any essential plot developments. However, I was mostly enthralled by what I heard. There were lots of twists and turns and while I was able to guess some of the plot developments, there were still plenty of surprises in store.
In addition to the narrative technique and the intricacies of the plot, I loved the language of the novel. So many words! (Due in part, I assume, to the fact that the novel was original published in serial form). There are times when clean, pared-down language is in order in a novel and there are times when gorgeous, lush prose is what is needed to advance a plot. This novel would not have worked nearly as well without the richness of its language.
For me, the weakness of the novel lies in its heroine, Laura Fairlie, and the romantic attachment of the hero to her. Laura is beautiful and kind but incredibly dull. For a brief moment early in the novel she showed some spirit, but only for a brief moment. Why the hero should prefer Laura to her half-sister Marian is a mystery. For Marian Halcombe is a wonderful character: intelligent, feisty, independent and assertive. Laura is presumably the ideal of Victorian womanhood, but she is not a heroine for our times.
If anything, the villains of the novel are far more compelling than the virtuous characters. Count Fosco is an amazing creation. He dominates every moment he is on the page. He is also the character who most appreciates Marian, which only adds to his charms!
All in all, listening to this audiobook was a memorable literary experience, made all the more enjoyable by being a buddy-read with my friend Jemidar. Since finishing it a few days ago, I have read some excellent reviews here on Goodreads. I am posting a link ( http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/73079105) to one of my favourites, by Sandybanks. It does go into spoiler territory to some extent, but it provides an excellent summary of the life lessons to be learned from reading Woman in White!