"The Monctons"

The Monctons by Susanna Moodie

Finding this novel available as a free e-book was a surprise after trying, and failing, to find a print copy for several years. I live in a Canadian city named after the Moncton family; it's a name you don't come across often so I was interested in seeing what this book had to say. It's fiction, but still I was hoping there might be a tidbit or two of factual information. It wasn't that kind of novel though, not what I'd call "historical fiction" in the usual sense of the term. The story is set at a particular time in history, but is not about that era. It's completely about relationships within the Moncton family: who cheated who, who lied, who kept secrets and who tried to swindle who out of their rightful inheritance.

It's not a great book, but I found myself interested in the characters and all the intricacies of their relationships - and intricate it was indeed. I got lost amid the brothers, cousins and all their various connections, finally making sense of it all by making a list of names and how they related to each other. Once I could see it laid out it was much easier to follow.

The story centers around Geoffrey Moncton, poor relation of Robert Moncton who takes Geoffrey into his law firm to learn the business. Robert's cousin, Alexander Moncton, holds the title of Baronet and is master of the Moncton estate but has no heir to follow him. Robert has hopes for his own son, the obnoxious, insufferable Theophilus ("as ferocious and hard a human biped as ever disgraced the name of man"), and the lengths to which he will go to make sure his son receives the inheritance are mind-boggling. 

This style of mystery writing serves up a little more melodrama than I like, but on the other hand there was an inspiring nobility in some of the characters that very much appealed to me. I enjoy books that give me someone to look up to and leave me wanting to be a better person. As usual in this type of novel everything is clearly black and white, with no grey areas between good and evil; it's not always realistic but it is the genre. The opening lines of the book suggest the struggle between right and wrong that is about to unfold:

"There was a time - a good old time - when men of rank and fortune were not ashamed of their poor relations; affording the protection of their name and influence to the lower shoots of the great family tree, which, springing from the same root, expected to derive support and nourishment from the main stem.....That time is well-nigh gone forever.."

If I had to slot this novel into a specific genre it would be Victorian mystery, but there are a couple of romantic story lines as well. They are every bit as complicated as the plot of the mystery is, but, then, there's that dependable Victorian ending where all things get sorted out and the future looks bright, at least for those who deserve it.

All in all it was a pretty good read. If you enjoy Victorian style mysteries generally, you'd probably like this one too. The plot could have been laid out with more clarity, and a character or two less might have helped, but there's a wholesomeness to this story that makes it worth reading.  You can't help liking sentiments like this final quote I'll leave with you:

"Nature has always such an exhilarating effect upon my mind that I can hardly feel miserable while the sun shines."


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