Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles, by Arthur Conan Doyle

When I was a pre-teen I loved the Sherlock Holmes stories. I can’t now seem to remember why but perhaps it was the general spookiness of the cases he handled that drew me in? Anyway I’ve always felt that these were class mysteries and I have regarded them highly ever since, even if I can’t remember reading one during the last 30-35 years that have passed. When the Fellows at the Green Dragon started to talk about doing a mystery genre group read and when Holmes and the Hound of Baskerville I was eager to jump the train as I viewed it as an opportunity to read and discuss a genre I don’t usually spend much time with, through a book I was pretty certain to like.

I was disappointed.

First, the story. I didn’t think it held up well either as adventure or as mystery. Compared to what I think of as “modern” standards the adventure was missing and the mystery is a very simple one.

Secondly, the characters. They all fell flat. I realise that the Holmes novellas and stories aren’t about character development but when the general scenery is more alive than the people acting upon it there’s not much to attach to.

Thirdly, the society. The cultural norms of the time jars.

This is in itself an interesting discussion, of course. Presently more than a few books that initially were published during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century are subject to extensive rewriting, so to better fit our cultural norms. Personally I am aghast. A book is a book and as such is an artefact of it’s time. Changing it is falsification of history, no less. If they need be reprinted do so with an introduction explaining the context but do under no circumstances rewrite them.

However, many of those books are unreadable to me today – I spend more time being horrified (over such things like people thinking facial features a marker of intelligence normal) than actually reading the story.

The Hound of the Baskervilles was such an experience to me. Educational. Historically interesting. But utterly unreadable as what it was originally meant to be – an adventure and a mystery, exhibiting the astounding capabilities of Sherlock Holmes.

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