Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I really wanted to like The Westing Game, but I must admit that I was disappointed. 

The story revolves around the sixteen heirs to the Samuel Westing fortune and their hunt for Mr. Westing's killer. The heirs, who all live in the same apartment building, have some connection to the multi-millionaire but no one knows exactly what that connection is. The heirs work in pairs to unravel clues provided by Westing himself. The winner of the game inherits his two hundred million dollar estate. Not bad!

This mystery, a 1979 Newbery Medal winner by Ellen Raskin, has a young protagonist, clever clues, amusing characters, a couple of red herrings, bombs, blizzards and fireworks. There is also some clever word play. 

So what's not to like, you might ask?

For one thing, it is a difficult book to read.  Ms. Raskin many times fails to identify which character is speaking or acting which baffled me and I spent a lot of time rereading a paragraph or section trying to figure out who was saying or doing what. 

Although each character's personality, position, and quirks are well presented in the book, with sixteen of them - plus a few others thrown in for good measure - it is difficult to keep up with them all. I made a list and referred to it often until I got more familiar with them.

Three or four explosions happen in the story, but even after the identity of the bomber is revealed, the reader is offered no explanation or motive for the actions.

To add to the confusion, each chapter is made up of snippets of conversation or action so there isn't much flow. I was jerked from place to another in the narrative - such as it is. And this was written in an age before our minds were totally fragmented by the digital revolution!

I really can't imagine that this book would hold the interest of a young reader. I was determined to get through to the end, but my interest pretty much flagged at about the half-way mark. I continued reading out of sheer stubbornness, not because I was engaged with the plot or characters.

As to the denouement, I don't feel very confident in the solution presented to 'the game.' Even after reading summaries and reviews on line, I am still not convinced. Does the conclusion really make sense? I cannot say for sure.


  1. I was interested to read your comment about the author not identifying the speaker all the time. I had that trouble with Wolf Hall, which so many raved about. I just gave up because I never knew who was speaking. I don't think authors should make their books needlessly confusing or difficult for the reader.

    1. I agree, Joan. Clean, clear writing is not always to be found. I am used to muddle in newer books - I don't think there are editors any more - but I was surprised that a book of this vintage kept me baffled. I sometimes wondered if she made it confusing as part of the mystery.