This novel, originally published in 1898, is a great example of how a sense of pacing and adventure can change for readers over time. Moonfleet is an adventure story, clearly meant for young readers (probably boys, given the time), featuring smuggling, buried treasure, and shipwrecks. It has all of these elements and yet it’s so boring to read.
Call me a millennial with a short attention span if you want but the action in Moonfleet is entirely hit and miss. There are bouts of excitement followed by sections where nothing much happens. Far too much time is given to explanations and not enough to the actual action of the plot. I expected something more like Kidnapped or Treasure Island but Falkner’s work is nothing to compared to Stevenson’s.
John Trenchard is an orphan (of course) in the seaside village of Moonfleet. When he stumbles across an elaborate system of smugglers, it seems like excitement is right around the corner. There is a tale of a ghost and buried treasure and John eagerly goes in search of this lost diamond. There are some thrills when it seems like he’s close to discovering the treasure but then the plot slows right down and focuses on his recovery from illness and the plot switches to the renewing of the lease at the local tavern. Instead of looking for treasure, we spend time literally waiting for a candle to burn down.
In a similar fashion, John and his new guardian, Elzevir Block, become embroiled in a smuggling ring where they are almost caught and John is shot in the foot. With a bounty on their heads, it seems like the plot is finally moving. But then we spend chapters with them in a cave while John’s foot recovers. Realistic, yes. Fun to read, no.
It doesn’t help either that John has clearly found a clue to the location of the buried treasure but isn’t smart enough to recognize it as such until well into the book. And again, when John and Elzevir do begin their treasure hunt, the plot continues in this stop-and-go fashion. The ending is, of course, happy but not because of anything John does. It’s all wrapped up in deus ex machina fashion with John getting everything he wanted. Which is nice but I didn’t really care because there wasn’t much characterization to John. Even though he is the narrator of the story, we don’t delve very deeply into who he is or his motivations. Things simply happen to him more than he is the driving force behind any of the action.
All in all, you’re better off reading Treasure Island.