Throwback Thursday: Agatha Christie at Home

I’m linking up today with Davida @ The Chocolate Lady’s Book Review Blog for Throwback Thursday. It takes place on the Thursday before the first Saturday of every month (i.e., the Thursday before the monthly #6Degrees post). The idea is to highlight one of your previously published book reviews and then link back to Davida’s blog.

Today I’m looking back at my post on Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill, which I first posted on 19 August 2013.

Here’s the first paragraph:

One of the things that struck me when I was reading Agatha Christie’s An Autobiography was her love of houses. It stemmed from her childhood dolls’ house. She enjoyed buying all the things to put in it – not just furniture, but all the household implements such as brushes and dustpans, and food, cutlery and glasses. She also liked playing at moving house, using a cardboard box as a furniture van.

Click here to read my full review

The next Throwback Thursday post is scheduled for September 30.

Short Stories on Sunday

Today I’ve read one of the short stories from Agatha Christie’s collection Miss Marple and Mystery .

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This collection contains 55 stories, 20 of them featuring Miss Marple. I’ve read some of these in other short story collections but there are still many I haven’t read. There is an Short Story Chronology in the Appendix with a table aiming to present all Agatha Christie’s short stories published between 1923 and 1971, listed in order of traced first publication date.

Counting how many there are in total is a difficult task – some stories that first appeared in weekly or monthly magazines were later  re-worked and became chapters in a larger work, some in Partners in Crime were sub-divided into smaller chapters, 13 were re-worked into the episodic novel, The Big Four, and some were rewritten so substantially that they appear separately in different books!

The Lonely God has also been published as an e-book. It was first published in the Royal Magazine in July 1926.

This is an unusual story from Agatha Christie. It’s a love story about two lonely people who meet in the British Museum. Frank is forty, recently returned to England after spending 30 years in Burma. He has no friends and feels he is out of touch with the times, having spent so long abroad. He wanders around aimlessly and strolls into the British Museum one day to look at the Asian curiosities. There he spots a little grey stone idol, a pathetic little figure sitting hopelessly in isolation, elbows on his knees and his head in his hands; ‘a lonely god in a strange country.’

One day he finds a young woman in front of the ‘lonely god‘. Although dressed shabbily she is obviously a poverty stricken lady, fallen on hard times. They are both fascinated by the little stone god and gradually begin a conversation. And then they have tea together in an ABC shop near the Museum. Frank is in love. But when he goes to the see the lonely god again she doesn’t come – and he has no idea where she lives, or even know her name, because she wouldn’t tell him, wanting them to be just ‘two lonely people, who’ve come together and. made friends. It makes it so much more wonderful – and different.’ Frank is heartbroken. Will he ever find her again?

I really enjoyed this little story. As I said not crime fiction, but just a touching little romance that appealed to me. Agatha Christie, however described it in her Autobiography as ‘ regrettably sentimental‘. She had written it after reading The City of Beautiful Nonsense. (Autobiography page 198 in my paperback copy). I had to look up that book. It’s by Ernest Temple Thurston, published in 1909 and described as a ‘sentimental novel’. It is a tale of two cities: mainly about the life of the shabby genteel in Edwardian London, but also in Venice.

Short Stories on Sunday

Today I’ve read one of the short stories from Agatha Christie’s collection Miss Marple and Mystery .

IMG_20180513_095855842.jpg

This collection contains 55 stories, 20 of them featuring Miss Marple. I’ve read some of these in other short story collections but there are still many I haven’t read. There is an Short Story Chronology in the Appendix with a table aiming to present all Agatha Christie’s short stories published between 1923 and 1971, listed in order of traced first publication date.

Counting how many there are in total is a difficult task – some stories that first appeared in weekly or monthly magazines were later  re-worked and became chapters in a larger work, some in Partners in Crime were sub-divided into smaller chapters, 13 were re-worked into the episodic novel, The Big Four, and some were rewritten so substantially that they appear separately in different books!

Manx Gold has also been published as an e-book. It was first published in the Manchester Daily Dispatch between 23-28 May 1930, and as a booklet distributed throughout the island, as a treasure hunt to promote tourism in the Isle of Man. She received a fee of £65 (in today’s money over £4,000!)

Cousins, who are engaged, Fenella and Juan are left an intriguing puzzle by their uncle who lived in the Isle of Man – to find four ‘ treasure chests’, not gold ingots or coins, but actually snuff boxes. In addition there are two more relatives also search for the ‘gold’.

I thought it sounded good, but I have to say that I was rather disappointed by the slightness of this short story. Their uncle has left cryptic clues leading to the ‘chests’ and a couple of sketch maps to guide them to the treasure. But I had no idea what the clues mean and could only read Fenella’s exclamations when they work it out and find the little snuff boxes. Oh, there is also a murder – one of the other relatives is bashed on the head by the other one and left to die.

It’s quite an entertaining little story, but I much prefer Agatha Christie’s full length books.

Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie

I first read Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia in 2012 but never got round to writing about it. It was a good choice to re-read for the 1936 Club as I didn’t remember much about it. It’s a Poirot mystery, but he doesn’t appear until about halfway. As the title tells you it is set in Mesopotamia, the area in the Middle East between the two rivers, Tigris and Euphrates (the area of present-day Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Iran, Syria, and Turkey).

An archaeologist’s wife is murdered on the shores of the River Tigris in Iraq…

It was clear to Amy Leatheran that something sinister was going on at the Hassanieh dig in Iraq; something associated with the presence of ‘Lovely Louise’, wife of celebrated archaeologist Dr Leidner.

In a few days’ time Hercule Poirot was due to drop in at the excavation site. But with Louise suffering from terrifying hallucinations, and tension within the group becoming almost unbearable, Poirot might just be too late…

Agatha Christie had first visited the Middle East in 1929 travelling on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Damascus and Baghdad. She visited the excavations at Ur and returned there the following spring where she met archaeologist Max Mallowan – by the end of the summer they had decided to marry, which they did on 11 September 1930. So, by 1936 when she wrote Murder in Mesopotamia she had frequently accompanied Max on his archaeological digs and her books set in the Middle East are based on the everyday life that she experienced on a dig and on the people she met.

The murder victim is Louise Leidner, the wife of the leader of the expedition. The novel is narrated by Nurse Amy Leatheran, who had been asked by Dr Leidner to care for Louise, although he is vague about what is wrong with her. It seems she is scared and has nervous terrors. She has fearful visions and the other members of the expedition blame her for the oppressive atmosphere on the dig.

It’s a seemingly impossible murder – she is found in her room, dead from a blow on her head, and suspicion falls on Louise’s first husband who had been sending her threatening letters, or so she had claimed. But no strangers had been seen on or near the expedition house and it is down to Poirot to discover what had actually happened. Fortunately Poirot was in the area, having sorted out a military scandal in Syria (referred to at the beginning of Murder on the Orient Express) and was passing through the expedition site on his way to Baghdad before returning to London.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although I think the details of how the murder was committed are rather far-fetched. I was hoping that Agatha Christie had mentioned writing it in her Autobiography, but I couldn’t find any reference to it, although she wrote extensively about her time in the Middle East with Max, and in her fascinating memoir, Come, Tell Me How You Live she wrote about how much she loved the country and its people.

Top Ten Tuesday: Quotations

The topic this week is Favourite Book Quotes. At first I didn’t think I would tackle this topic, with so many to choose. But in the end I came up with the following quotations from just three authors.

First from Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey through Trees, a book about Deakin’s journeys through a wide variety of trees and woods in various parts of the world. 

To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is no accident that in the comedies of Shakespeare, people go into the greenwood to grow, learn and change. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically , by getting lost. Merlin sends the future King Arthur as a boy into the greenwood to fend for himself in The Sword in the Stone. There, he falls asleep and dreams himself, like a chameleon, into the lives of the animals and the trees.”

And later in the book he writes about pencils:

The pencil whispers across the page and is never dogmatic.‘ And this, ‘Rub your finger long enough on a soft-pencilled phrase and it will evaporate into a pale-grey cloud. In this way, pencil is close to watercolour painting.’ 

Thinking about trees led me on to The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy, one of my favourites of Hardy’s books, full of beautiful descriptions of the landscape and woods. In this passage he is describing Giles Winterbourne:

“He looked and smelt like Autumn’s very brother, his face being sunburnt to wheat-colour, his eyes blue as corn-flowers, his sleeves and leggings dyed with fruit stains, his hands clammy with the sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him that atmospheres of cider which at its first return each season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards.”

Next from Agatha Christie’s Autobiography:

“I am today the same person as that solemn little girl with pale flaxen sausage-curls. The house in which the spirit dwells, grows, develops instincts and tastes and emotions and intellectual capacities, but I myself, the true Agatha, am the same. I do not know the whole Agatha. The whole Agatha, so I believe, is known only to God.

So there we are, all of us, little Agatha Miller, and big Agatha Miller, and Agatha Christie and Agatha Mallowan proceeding on our way – where? That one doesn’t know – which of course makes life exciting. I have always thought life exciting and I still do.”

“Always when I woke up, I had the feeling which I am sure must be natural to all of us, a joy in being alive. I don’t say you feel it consciously – you don’t – but there you are, you are alive, and you open your eyes, and here is another day; another step as it were, on your journey to an unknown place. That very exciting journey which is your life. Not that it is necessarily going to be exciting as a life, but it will be exciting to you because it is your life. That is one of the great secrets of existence, enjoying the gift of life that has been given to you.”

“Naturally happy people can be unhappy and melancholic people enjoy themselves. But if I were taking a gift to a child at a christening that is what I would choose: a naturally happy frame of mind.”

“If I could write like Elizabeth Bowen, Muriel Spark or Graham Greene, I should jump to high heaven with delight, but I know that I can’t, and it would never occur to me to attempt to copy them. I have learnt that I am me, that I can do the things, that as one might put it, me can do, but I cannot do the things that me would like to do.”

And this is probably my favourite of all:

“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”

Top Ten Tuesday: First Edition Agatha Christie Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog. The topic this week is a Book Cover Freebie.

How it works:

There’s a new topic every Tuesday. You create your own top ten (or 2, 5, 20, etc.) list on that topic or one of your own if you wish and then link back to That Artsy Reader Girl so that others know where to find more information. If a weekly topic is listed as a “freebie”, you are invited to come up with your own topic. Sometimes she will give the freebie topic a theme, such as “love”, a season, or an upcoming holiday. That just means that you can come up with any topic you want that fits under that umbrella.

So today my top ten are twelve –

Twelve First Edition Agatha Christie book covers.

I’ve read all of Agatha Christie’s crime fiction novels and the links are to my posts – although the books I read were not first editions!

My Friday Post: Giant’s Bread by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Giant’s Bread is by Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott. It’s one of the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. She wrote six novels under this pseudonym – Giant’s Bread was the first one, published in 1930. In the same year she also published The Mysterious Mr Quin and, Murder at the Vicarage – Miss Marple’s first book. 

It begins with a Prologue:

It was the opening night of London’s new National Opera House and consequentially an occasion. Royalty was there. The Press were there. The fashionable were there in large quantities. Even the musical, by hook or by crook, had managed to be there – mostly very high up in the final tier of seats under the roof.

They were there to see the performance of a new musical composition called Giant’s Bread.

And chapter one begins:

There were only three people of real importance in Vernon’s world: Nurse, God and Mr Green

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.
  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Poor Myra, She’d had a rotten deal on the whole. A fine looking creature, but he’d married her really for the sake of Abbots Puissants – and she had married him for love. That was the root of the whole trouble.

Blurb from Goodreads:

Vernon Deyre is a sensitive and brilliant musician, even a genius, tormented and driven by forces even he didn’t understand. His sheltered childhood in the home he loves has not prepared Vernon for the harsh reality of his adult years, and in order to write the great masterpiece of his life, he has to make a crucial decision with no time left to count the cost. But there is a high price to be paid for his talent, especially by his family and the two women in his lifee – the one he loves and the one who loves him.

Young Nell Vereker had always loved Vernon, loved him with a consuming passion that was alien to the proper social world in which she lived. But when Vernon sought solace in the arms of Jane Harding, a stranger and enigmatically beautiful older woman, Nell felt she could endure no greater pain. But Fate had only begun to work its dark mischief on this curious romantic triangle — for before their destinies were sealed, one would live, one would die, and one would return from the grave to be damned…

~~~

Mary was Agatha’s second name and Westmacott the name of some distant relatives. She succeeded in keeping her identity as Mary Westmacott unknown for nearly twenty years and the books, much to her pleasure, were modestly successful.

Short Stories on Sunday

Over several years I’ve been reading my way through Agatha Christie’s books and short stories. I’ve read all her detective/mystery novels and some of her short story collections. In an attempt to read more of the short stories I’ve decided to read some each Sunday, beginning with the stories collected in Miss Marple and Mystery.

IMG_20180513_095855842.jpgThis collection contains 55 stories, 20 of them featuring Miss Marple. There is an Short Story Chronology in the Appendix with a table aiming to present all Agatha Christie’s short stories published between 1923 and 1971, listed in order of traced first publication date. Counting how many there are in total is a difficult task – some stories that first appeared in weekly or monthly magazines were later  re-worked and became chapters in a larger work, some in Partners in Crime were sub-divided into smaller chapters, 13 were re-worked into the episodic novel, The Big Four, and some were rewritten so substantially that they appear separately in different books!

I’ve read some of these in other short story collections but there are still many I haven’t read.

The Girl in the Train is one I haven’t read before. It was first published in Grand Magazine in February 1924 and was adapted as one of the Agatha Christie Hour drama series for by Thames Television in 1982 as part of their ten-part programme. It’s a very short story that also appears in The Listerdale Mystery collection of short stories.

George Rowland is the heir to his Uncle William’s wealth but is left without a job or a home when William throws him out on his heel. On a whim George Rowland decides to catch a train down to Rowland’s Castle, a village which happens to bear his name. A beautiful girl bursts into his compartment, frantically begging to be hidden.  She gives him a package saying it is the key to everything and he is to guard it with his life. Jumping out of the train at the first stop she tells him to follow the little man with a small dark beard getting on the train. His life changes dramatically as he follows her instructions.

It’s a bit of nonsense really, in the same vein as Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence stories. A quick easy read, but entertaining nevertheless and possibly the first of books entitled The Girl … 

Nonfiction November: Week 3 – Be The Expert – Agatha Christie

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I’m taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It was one of my favourite events last year – this year it will run from Oct 28 to Nov 30. Each Monday a link-up for the week’s topic will be posted at the host’s blog for you to link your posts throughout the week.

This week’s topic is: 

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie @ Doing Dewey): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I read more fiction than nonfiction, so I can’t claim to be an expert in any one subject, but I do read quite a lot of autobiographies and biographies and combined with my love of crime fiction I’ve chosen Agatha Christie for the subject of this post. I have read all of her crime fiction novels, her Autobiography and her memoir, Come Tell Me How You Live.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. It took her fifteen years to write it. She stopped in 1965 when she was 75 because she thought that it was the ‘right moment to stop’. As well as being a record of her life as she remembered it and wanted to relate it, it’s also full of her thoughts on life and writing. I’ve written about her Autobiography in a few posts as I was reading it:

Agatha Christie: Come, Tell Me How You Live: an archaeological memoir – she had visited the Middle East in 1929 travelling on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Damascus and Baghdad. She visited the excavations at Ur and returned there the following spring where she met archaeologist Max Mallowan – by the end of the summer they had decided to marry, which they did on 11 September 1930. She wrote this memoir to answer her friends’ questions about what life was like when she accompanied Max on his excavations in Syria and Iraq in the 1930s.

I can also recommend the following books:

Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade – a fascinating book. I did feel as though I was intruding into Agatha Christie’s private life that she had not wanted made known but Cade writes sympathetically. In December 1926 Agatha Christie disappeared from her home, Styles, in Berkshire. She was found eleven days later in a hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire apparently suffering from amnesia.   The book is not just about those eleven days but is a biography that reveals how those eleven days and the events that led up to her disappearance influenced the rest of her life.

Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson – Overall, I think that this book as a biography is unbalanced, concentrating on the events surrounding Agatha’s disappearance and there is much speculation and supposition. I prefer Agatha’s own version of her life: An Autobiography, in which she merely referred to the events of 1926 thus:

The next year of my life is one I hate recalling. As so often in life, when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. (page 356)

Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill –  a beautiful book, with many photographs – more than 100 colour photos – illustrating Agatha’s life and homes.

Poirot and Me by David Suchet – For me Suchet was the perfect Poirot and this book really lives up to its title, as the main subject is David Suchet’s role as Poirot. His first performance as Poirot was in 1988. Over the intervening twenty five years he played the part in every one of the seventy Poirot stories that Agatha Christie wrote, with the exception of a tiny short story called The Lemesurier Inheritance (a story in Poirot’s Early Cases and in The Under Dog).

I also dip into two more books about Agatha Christie’s work – Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran and The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie by Charles Osborne.

Six Degrees of Separation: from How To Be Both to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

This month (April 6, 2019), the chain begins with Ali Smith’s award-winning novel, How to be Both.

How to be both

How to be Both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.’ (Goodreads)

I haven’t read this book but I’d like to sometime. I see that there are two versions: one begins with the contemporary story, the other with the 15th-century story. This reminded me of Carol Shields’ book Happenstance, two stories about the same five-day period – one from Jack Bowman’s point of view, and the other from his wife, Brenda’s. They’re printed in the same book in an unusual format of containing two books in one, either can be read first – then turn the book upside down and read the other story.

Happenstance

My next link is a bit of a jump – from the character Brenda in Happenstance I immediately thought of Brenda Blethyn, who plays Vera in Ann Cleeves’s books. One of these books is Silent Voices in which D I Vera Stanhope finds a dead body in the sauna room of her local gym. The victim, a woman had worked in social services – and was involved in a shocking case involving a young child.

Social Services also feature in Fair of Face by Christina James. Ten year old Grace is being fostered when her foster mother and her baby are found dead in their beds. Social Services are asked to work with the police, in order to question Grace and her friend Chloe, a child from a troubled family.

Another author with the name James, is P D James, also a crime writer. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman is a Cordelia Gray detective story in which she takes on an assignment from Sir Ronald Callander, a famous scientist, to investigate the death of his son, Mark who had been found hanged in suspicious circumstances. Mark had left Cambridge University without completing his degree and had taken a job as a gardener.

My next link is to Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons, set mainly in an exclusive and expensive girls’ school, Meadowbank, in England. Some new staff members have been appointed, including Adam Goodman, a handsome young gardener.

My final link is to another school, the Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Muriel Spark’s novel, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Marcia Blaine is a traditional school where Miss Brodie’s ideas and methods of teaching are viewed with dislike and distrust. The Head Teacher is looking for ways to discredit and get rid of her. The girls in her ‘set’ fall under her spell, but one of them betrays her, ruining her teaching career.

Different formats, the name ‘Brenda’, Social Services, authors’ surname ‘James’, gardeners,  and girls’ schools all link How To Be Both to The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Except for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie the books in my chain are all crime fiction and apart from How To Be Both I’ve read all the books in the chain – clicking on the titles takes you to my posts, where they exist.

Next month (May 4, 2019), the chain will begin with Jane Harper’s debut best-seller, The Dry.