1/31/2012

Review - Agatha Christie, An English mystery

Written by Laura Thompson, originally published 2007
My rating: 3/5

This is a problematic book. It has its good points, and some very negative. But let's start with the positive. The book is incredibly well researched, if there is anything you ever wanted to know you will find it here. You will find a whole lot of information you didn't even know you wanted to know. And Laura Thompson clearly loves her subject, she loves to write this book and it is very evident throughout it. No, throughout most of the book. She loves the subject and she loves the writer Christie and all this love and staunch belief in Christie can make an entertaining read.

But then there are some problems...

First of all this love for Christie makes Thompson a bit blind to the fact that not everyone that picks up this book will share her absolute devotion, considering Christie the best crime writer of the Golden era of English crime. It is of course quite alright to believe in your subject, but it can get a bit tedious with a long section stating Thompson’s opinions on why Christie is the greatest presented as unarguable fact.

Secondly, this is not a straightforward biography, you get all the facts, but a bit jumbled up as if you are supposed to have a grasp on the basic facts of Christie's life beforehand. For example, Christie’s first husband, Archie, is not much more than introduced before you are told that the marriage will end in shambles (which can get a bit boring for the reader, if nothing else). What Thompson want to tell her readers is instead the psychological biography of Christie. And that is a dangerous road to tread. Thompson seems incapable of consenting to that some things we just don't know, and we won't ever get the answer. The blurb on my copy talks about a unique access to letters, diaries and interviews with the family. This might be true, but it doesn't change the fact that most of the information come from Christie's books. Not her autobiography but her novels. Of course parts of it might very well reveal something about their creator, but it can't be used as facts, not even when semi-autobiographical. We just don't know what's true, and what is a pure fiction. Most of all Thompson turns to ‘Unfinished portrait’ and when there are facts and thoughts which collide with what we KNOW about Christie Thompson just pass them by without admitting the problem with using such a source when using the books for other parts of her life which we have very little, or no, other information about. Because we have to admit that there are quite frankly a lot about Christie's thoughts and inner life we don't know anything about. Not to mention that the novels are used in this way only when it suits this book's purpose. When a character says something less suitable it is labelled as a product of Christie's creativity.

Thirdly the main purpose of the book is without a doubt for the author to give her version of what she thinks happened when Christie disappeared for a week in 1926. I do not have a problem with that, it is an engrossing read. But there is a problem in this for the rest of the book. Everything that happened before this is analyzed with the knowledge of what was to happen then, and much afterwards is then analyzed as an effect of that one week and the media reaction afterwards, without taking into account that there are of course other things that must have influenced Christie and her actions. A person's actions in his or her life are generally not explainable with just one single cause. Another side-effect of this is that the later parts of her life are described in a way that is much less interesting, and since that is about fifty years of her life it is a bit of a problem.

Fourthly there are many instances in the book when what she writes is an answer to the book ‘Agatha Christie and the eleven missing days’ by Jared Cade, where Thompson mostly disagrees with the conclusions drawn. If you haven't read the book in question, and no I haven't, it is just pointless.

And finally Thompson has a clear concept of what she thinks, stating them as facts and not opinions, most prominent in her belief that Christie was too attached to her mother and the house where she grew up. I should say the evidences she puts forward are not hard enough to really sound convincing...

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