Review originally from my Goodreads account, written June 2013.
There are three things that I especially love in literature: epistolary writing, Victorian setting, and a gripping mystery. The Woman in White provides one with all of these things, and it does it quite well. Wilkie Collins gets you so sucked in to wanting to know the secrets and what's going to happen, that I could hardly put it down. I can see why (as the back cover states) it has "never been out of print."
The story centers around Walter Hartright and Marian Halcombe, who are vying to protect the innocence of Marian's sister Laura from her groom-to-be: the menacing Sir Percival Glyde and his (pretty slimy) friend/conspirator, Count Fosco. But for the majority of the novel, the biggest mystery surrounds the enigmatic Anne Catherick. She is connected to both Laura and Percival, and bears a dark, condemning secret about the latter. Laura needs all the protection she can get – because Sir Percival and Count Fosco both have sinister, ulterior motives for her marriage.
Overall, I found the story to be very compelling, and I had a blast reading it. However, there were a few things that bothered me, and also made me chuckle a bit. First of all, the story definitely does drag on in parts. Whether it was a character going off on a tirade about their good morals, their reasoning behind actions, or just generally being flowery. But I would attribute it to satirical purposes and the period it was written in. The other few things that bothered me, begin with the really obvious, satirical-to-the-point-of-insulting descriptions and characterizations of foreigners. Of course I had no problem with Count Fosco being described in this manner because he was a disgusting creep through the whole story anyways. But, with other characters, it just seemed unnecessary! And, most of all, the way Collins depicts women in his writing. I wasn't sure, however, if it was meant to satirize the mindset that existed about women in those days, with the contrast of Marian just generally being awesome. But, if he wasn't satirizing it, clearly to him, all of womankind are frail creatures, prone to fainting... and the more they faint, the more likely it is they are crazy! And therefore it will be totally legit to throw them into an insane asylum.
Now, don't mistake my mini-rant for dislike of the novel, I really did love it. I actually find reading about these old-age mindsets to be somewhat hilarious and quite a kick, because it is so ridiculous and we know how untrue it is these days. His depiction of Marian quite made up for the frailty of the other female characters, (whether it was meant for satire or not), and the multi-layered mystery topples over any character-flaws and make it a worthwhile read. I would recommend it to fans of mysteries, especially those who loved reading the Sherlock Holmes stories.