The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle (1892)
The trouble is… it isn’t very good.
Really? But it’s immensely famous! A classic! What sacrilege is this? What was the problem?
Was there something wrong with the story, the plot? Not at all. Each chapter formed a well-crafted little crime drama, complete with creative little twists and turns. Perhaps they became a bit too formulaic by the end, predictable even. But plot is not the problem.
Was the writing awkward or clunky? Was it just plain hard to read? Not at all. Doyle’s prose reads very elegantly. His descriptions are crisp and he moves the narrative forward with a remarkable economy of words.
Was the subject matter unpleasant? Please. The subject matter is every bit as proper as its protagonist. I would not have any reservation handing “The Adventures” to my eleven year old (but ymmv).
Then where lies its flaw? Elementary: I wasn’t drawn to any of the characters. And it’s not that they weren’t pleasant; most of them were. Watson came across as quite an affable fellow. Holmes a little less so. Watson’s own description of Holmes is apt: “I was repelled by the egotism which I had more than once observed to be a strong factor in my friend’s singular character.” Several of the supporting characters were intriguing, even downright funny.
But pleasant or not, they didn’t grow (nor deteriorate), didn’t develop. And—for that reason, I think—none of them gripped me. There was no grand narrative to their lives. At no point did they embark on a quest in search of their better-selves. Watson simply gave up when he couldn’t anticipate Holmes’ train of thought. Holmes never properly wrestled with his own arrogance—what a different book it would have been if he had! Minor characters were similarly two dimensional. It came to feel like the entire architecture of each short story existed merely to showcase Holmes’ deductive reasoning, instead of being built to showcase Holmes’ humanity (or ours for that matter).
Read this book for its compact whodunnit dramas—they really are elegant. Read it as an adventure back in time. But if you’re looking for more… keep looking.
Bernard Cane (Kingston Beach Chapter)