Thursday, 29 September 2011
The Marvellous Mrs Christie
Of course, at the age of eight or so, I didn't appreciate the skilful parodies as much as they deserved, but I was enthralled and engrossed by the stories, and fell in love with the two main characters. I have to admit that when I reached The Man in the Mist, the Father Brown parody, I was so terrified that I dropped the book with a thud, had a series of nightmares over the following week, and didn't go back to Mrs Christie for at least another year. But once I did, I read everything I could get my hands on, and have been steadily re-reading her ever since.
Agatha Christie is obviously best known as the creator of Hercule Poirot, and to an almost equal extent of Miss Marple. While I love these characters and everything she's written about them, I have to confess that my own favourites amongst Christie's writing are, firstly, her various short stories; and secondly, the books where she takes a young couple as central characters. My early experience of her may well be influencing me here!
As a writer of short stories, Agatha Christie has few equals. The Mysterious Mr Quin is a book I return to probably more than any other. The originality of the main character, the excellent plots, and the touch of enchantment which runs throughout make it an experience which I want to have over and over again. The only problem with this is that I over-read it, and sometimes have to lay it aside for longer than I'd like before I can fully enjoy it again.
The Poirot short stories, to my mind, are not on an equal footing with these. Poirot developed as the books went on, and it's the middle period which shows him, and Christie, at their best. Sad Cypress, for instance, is among the more enjoyable, or Five Little Pigs (one I particularly like) or The Hollow, or Taken at the Flood. The well known Death On the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express always surprise me by how good I find them when I come back to them, for in between readings I tend to begin thinking of them as less good than they are. Cards On The Table is one I particularly love, and I was, therefore, greatly annoyed by the TV version a few years ago which mucked up the plot something chronic!
Agatha Christie herself agreed that a book needs some changes before it can be successfully transferred to stage or film, and in fact changed the ending of the book now known as Then There Were None for the film version, re-writing it herself. However, her general opinion of people who want to change her books for this purpose can be seen in the very amusing passages of Mrs McGinty's Dead which deal with Mrs Oliver's feelings on this subject. Mrs Oliver is a very witty take-off of Christie herself, and I always love reading the books in which she plays a role. In Mrs McGinty's Dead, she is attempting to work on a stage adaptation of one of her detective stories with an opinionated young playwright who wants to completely change the age and character of her well-known and popular detective. 'Then he can't be Sven Hjerson. Just make him a Norwegian young man who's in the Resistance movement,' she says, and when the reply is that the whole idea is to have a play about Sven Hjerson, who is 'box-office', she wails that her readers know what he's like. But, she's told, that's got nothing to do with the stage! (For stage, read Television.)
As I start to write about them, I realise how many of the Poirot books I really like, as well as the other, non series, type.
This blog is already rather long. Much as I'm enjoying writing it, I'd better stop now. Next time I'll be writing about a new book rather than an old favourite, but after that again I plan to post Part 2 of my thoughts on Agatha Christie – this time about 'Mary Westmacott', the pseudonym she was forced to adopt when she wanted to write books which didn't fit into the detective story genre. Hope to see you then!