Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pretty ghastly

Lindsay Duguid at the TLS on Laura Thompson's biography of Agatha Christie:
In the abstract, these novels can seem intriguing; their sameness tempts one to deconstruct them as examples of a sort of anti-novel, in which certain elements – the village, the country house, the poisoned chocolates, the gentleman’s gun collection – are not meant to be considered as representing real life but are self-consciously manipulated for the reader’s pleasure. The many references the books contain to crime fiction and to contemporary real-life crimes, such as the Crippen murders and the Thompson–Bywater case, appear to support this, and Christie’s manifest lack of seriousness (which goes with an almost complete lack of humour) seems to suggest that she was playing a sophisticated metafictional game. It is also possible to say, as Thompson does, that the books fulfilled a need for representations of certainty or justice in the troubled twentieth century. But reading them brings one up hard against the realities of leaden exchanges and flat, repetitious description:

"When dinner was over they went to Mr Satterthwaite’s house. Mr Satterthwaite’s house was on the Chelsea Embankment. It was a large house, and it contained many beautiful works of art. There were pictures, sculptures, Chinese porcelain, prehistoric pottery, ivories, miniatures and much genuine Chippendale and Hepplewhite furniture. It had an atmosphere about it of mellowness and understanding."

One can hardly bear to read on.

I liked Agatha Christie very much when I was ten or eleven, then grew out of her novels; but I sort of shamefully rediscovered them in adulthood, they are unbelievably thin in terms of language and characterization (the passage quoted at the end here shows the extent to which Christie describes only in the most impressionistic way) and yet there is something quite addictive about them. I even like the implausible New-World-Order-type post-WWII thrillers, though they are certainly less good than the pre-war ones...

1 comment:

  1. I did love Agatha Christie as a teenager, and read probably eighty percent of her mysteries, but I've not been able to bring myself to pick one up as an adult. That passage sure doesn't make me think I could handle it.