badgerbag: (Default)
[personal profile] badgerbag
Onwards with the reading-all-agatha-christie project, so useful for convalescing!

N or M (1941)
This was fabulous. Tommy and Tuppence from The Young Adventurers return for some spy and investigative work during World War II. Holy crap, everyone is a suspicious possible German spy. Very exciting. Often awful. Spies are EVERYWHERE. After this was published, MI5 interrogated Christie because one of the characters was named "Bletchley" and there is stuff about spies and codes. There is more than one non-awful woman (still) (unlike the books later in the decade)

The Body in the Library (1941)
The second Miss Marple book. Miss Marple and her friend Mrs. Bantry (who is kind of charming!) Features a wealthy old man who uses a wheelchair and who is often described as "a helpless cripple" though he is in good health and athletic and pushes himself around in his chair. Unlike many wealthy old men he distributed his money years ago to his children. But then he went off and made MORE money after his airplane accident. I can't remember any allusions to the war. I found the whole concept of young women dancing and hostessing in a hotel somewhere in a rural area to be deeply weird especially how it is just normal that people come live in that hotel for a long while. How odd.

The Moving Finger (1942)
A brother and sister move to a small village. He was injured in a plane crash. Can't remember if it was the war or not. There is an awkward 20 year old woman ignored by her family who just needs this dude to give her a new outfit to be all glamorous. There are anonymous hate letters being sent all through the village.

Towards Zero (1944)
This book is creepy! An old rich lady has some relatives visit. Murder time! The complication is that there's Neville and his new wife Kay, who is sexy, low class, and makes scenes. But also, awkwardly, his ex-wife Audrey who is delicate and upper class. Hijinks ensue. There is a competent cool-headed single woman, Mary Aldin, who is "companion" to the rich lady. Sort of a type for Christie. She doesn't have any friends.

Death Comes as the End (1944)
Set in ancient Egypt. The ingenue, Renisneb, is sort of the detective. Other women are awful and catty. Except her grandmother who is also pretty much awful. Uhhh. What is happening! I noted the bits where Christie talks about the main characters' "black slaves" and did not get the feeling that meant "as opposed to the slaves who weren't black" but rather that the main characters were not black. Our heroine's awesomeness is expressed as she slowly develops the idea of true patriotism.

Sparkling Cyanide (1945)
Rather horrible rich people have a dinner party. The one of them that was about to inherit a crapload of money is poisoned in her champagne. Women are not friends in this book. With each other or really anyone. What happened to the war? Puzzling.

The Hollow (1946)
OK here is a departure from the standard. I think Christie was getting bored with her formulas. Two of the characters are very passionate about their art or work. They get obsessed with it and they have sort of more serious literary-person crises and existential despair and everything is not going to come out OK with neat marriages. OK then! Rare female character who is good at her art and cares about having some sort of profession. Intriguing but the people were all assholes. I absolutely loathed the plucky patient in the hospital. LOATHED. What the hell was that! And then Poirot is in it, which feels extra surreal. I think he is at least 100 years old now. Didn't he meet Hastings back in 1863? Wasn't he already old and retired when he was a refugee during world War I?

Taken at the Flood (1948)
A wild World War II appears! OK. This has got lots of people having demobilization crisis, shell shock, and so on. It also had a bit more of a "literary novel" feel in bits of it. Lynn Marchmont has actual thoughts about her life. Still no female friends though. And she ends up being a quite horrifying character at the very end because she .. Oh god I can't ..... Well, she realizes a fun way to get the exciting life of adventure she had during the war: marry a violent abusive man who just tried to kill her. Great career move, almost-awesome character! Seriously, what the fuck happened to poor Christie. Remember how awesome Bundle was in Seven Dials! :(

Crooked House (1949)
A family of mostly horrible people live in a big house with their eccentric genius rich progenitor. It is now possible to have a Greek grandfather without being sly, unreliable, over-sexy and essentially un-British. Maybe. Barely. People talk about the war a bit. The end is very depressing.

A Murder is Announced (1950)
Weird classified ad announces a murder in a village. Everyone assumes it's a murder mystery party invitation. A man walks in the door with a gun in his hand! MURDER TIME. Everyone's investments have failed and there are coupons and it is impossible to get good servants. Female friendships sort of exist. Kind of. And women are not universally awful except for one reasonable romantic heroine. The vicar's wife Bunch is nice. Shades of Bundle, but grown up and married.

They Came to Baghdad (1951)
Another exciting international spy thriller sort of thing. I was charmed by Victoria Jones and her impulsive romantic escapades and her ability to make up complicated funny lies. Then she gets to be an archeologist and stuff after some exciting spy times. Yay!!! The bad part was thinking of the horrible hours when they said planes were leaving in March 2003 to bomb Baghdad and knowing it was happening and how surreal that felt and now thinking of how deeply our country has fucked up Iraq.

Mrs. McGinty's Dead (1952)
It is still impossible to get good servants or even a once a week cleaning lady especially for middle class people in villages. Long slow freakout of middle class ladies over many books. Poirot shows up along with Ariadne Oliver. Christie spends a good bit of the book torturing Poirot with bad food and ladies who swear and bother his OCD with their disorderly ways. I have trouble remembering the actual plot. Oh yeah. It shows up halfway through. A newspaper clipping of murderers. Being adopted is VERY suspicious at all times. Blood will tell!

The Do It With Mirrors (1952)
Miss Marple goes to visit TWO old friends. Ding ding ding! Women are friends! They converse! About stuff! Themselves and their pasts and many things! I was intrigued at how Miss Marple and the first of her friends, Ruth, are both very old but Ruth is like in a girdle or has her hair dyed or something so that she is sexy and youthful looking and that does not make her automatically evil. Most of this book takes place in a mansion turned juvenile delinquent rehab center. Many think it wrong headed or odd that you should try to help delinquents rather than good lads who work hard. No one questions at all that all the people helped are lads. Where are the girl delinquents, for fuck's sake? No one thinks that maybe Dr. Helpy is molesting the boys either. Odd! (Also, upper class "boys" who forge checks are just a bit rakish and are packed off to another country for a few years till they return and probably murder someone.) The secret plot of this book is very creepy and weird and utterly wrong. I want to just reveal it here... spoilers... the embezzling happened so that Dr. Helpy could buy some islands or a country somewhere and transport all male juvenile delinquents to start a new utopian society. I am sure if he had carried it off there would have been pit traps and sharks with lasers and build a world-destroying machine. But no.

After the Funeral (1953)
A rich old guy dies and one of his daughters claims at the reading of the will that it was murder. Then she gets murdered omg. Then her companion and fellow lady "artist" (they both suck as a matter of course and are figures of ridicule) who used to have a tea shop nearly gets poisoned. All the siblings and nephews and nieces are kind of awful. There is a tyrannical hypochondriac who is faking illness all day and lies in bed having ovaltine and reading. I found that extra annoying. There is a huge country house and it has competent servants and there is a lot of talk about the ridiculous victorian decor that makes it sound like Christie totally misses cabinets full of stuffed birds and wishes more sparse Modern things would go to hell. There is a competent middle aged woman with good business sense but she had some sort of Fatal Flaw and certainly no friends.

General observations: Christie's books feel more sexist and full of horrible gender sterotypes. They don't pass the Bechdel test anymore. But they used to. And it wasn't like, automatic that women were stupid and mockable with a few exceptions. I even miss Socks from 1920, the teenage girl who said the word "subtle" in every sentence. It was gentle mockery....

Racism. It is constant and it actually feels like it gets worse. I continue to be astonished by the number of times Christie throws in the n word casually. Not like aimed at a person but as something odd like... Did you know there is a dessert called n* in his shirt. I did not know. Until now. But that is not even the racist part. It is that Christie more and more solidifies in her characters agreeing and it being totally normal that "blood will tell" so that if you had like one Italian grandparent you are oversexed, overemotional, unreliable, and sly as well as being just mysteriously exotically unBritish. It isn't like one character dislikes their niece's half-Russian husband it is just How Things Are. It also feels like there was one moment in 1936 where people from India existed both in India and England but then never again is there anyone from anywhere that isn't Europe or Russia, the U.S. and Canada. It became increasingly weird as I was swinging into the 1950s. Oh wait there was the whole book set in Ancient Egypt. And sometimes people do something bad with their dad's checkbook and disappear to Kenya or Australia for years. Anyway it is as if by over emphasizing the horrors of possibly marrying an Italian you could in your mind magically do away with all other bits of the world and people of color. That is how it comes off.

Social class. Post war fucked up economy, no one can get good servants even MORE. You can still tell just from looking at someone that they are not quite a gentleman. I didn't quite realize how far after the war ended that there was still rationing. In Christie's world it might be sort of understandable to cheat on your coupons and have too much butter or black market nylons but it means you aren't going to be quite right.

Date: 2014-01-25 07:01 am (UTC)
vass: A sepia-toned line-drawing of a man in naval uniform dancing a hornpipe, his crotch prominent (Default)
From: [personal profile] vass
A Murder Is Announced
"Female friendships sort of exist. Kind of."

Boston Marriages exist. I remember being impressed that everyone implicitly understood that Hinchcliffe was grieving for Murgatroyd's death in the same way as if they'd been a married couple.

And then there is Mitzi, the Holocaust survivor. D:

Date: 2014-01-25 01:53 pm (UTC)
mecurtin: Daniel agrees reading is fundamental (reading)
From: [personal profile] mecurtin
I was just reading -- or partly reading, till it had to go back to the library -- Postwar by Tony Judt, and he explained the post-war rationing thing, which I'd never really understood though I gathered that the upper-class Brits blamed it on the Labor government.

Basically, the US had been propping up the UK economy during the War. When it was over, US support went away, revealing that the UK was completely broke. The UK had to keep buying food etc from the US, but now the US wanted, like, *money* in return. And the UK was still trying to run an Empire.

Date: 2014-01-25 04:33 pm (UTC)
kate_nepveu: sleeping cat carved in brown wood (Default)
From: [personal profile] kate_nepveu
These are so interesting! Thanks.

Date: 2014-01-25 04:37 pm (UTC)
j00j: rainbow over east berlin plattenbau apartments (Default)
From: [personal profile] j00j
"Did you know there is a dessert called n* in his shirt. "
I wish I didn't. I've heard the German equivalent ("Mohr im Hemd"-- literally "Moor in shirt"). It's a warm chocolate cake served with a ton of whipped cream, common in Austria, but it's long past time it was called something else on menus. I've even seen it at Julius Meinl in the US-- I may need to see if the management is actually aware of what this means next time.

Sadly I can't comment much on Christie; I haven't gotten to her. I've been working through Sayers, who has her own moments of WHUT.

Date: 2014-01-26 11:19 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] alexbayleaf
Speaking of which I was just going to say, to [personal profile] badgerbag, oh, I guess you haven't read Sayers then? Because one of hers ("Have His Carcase") is set at a seaside resort with that same sort of host/hostess thing going on and people staying there for months at a time.

I wonder what the social forces were that made that a ~~thing? Like, there's the whole thing with Bath and similar places where people would go to "take the waters" for their health, and there's the thing where the upper classes would spend part of the year in London and part in the country, so I guess there's a sort of comfort level in picking up and going to stay somewhere for an extended period. But... WHY? Why seaside towns? What were the demographics of the people who did it? What did it cost? I wonder if there is a book ALL ABOUT THIS and whether I can read up on it?

Date: 2014-01-26 04:35 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
Seaside towns still exist in other parts of the world. Apparently, everyone (i.e., everyone with money and of the appropriate class) in Zagreb goes to the lakeshore for the summer.

Date: 2014-01-27 07:03 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] alexbayleaf
We definitely have seaside towns in Australia (do we ever!) and they certainly have a peak period in the summer, but it's quite a different vibe I think -- more beer and surfing, more likely to rent (or if you're lucky own) a house to share with friends and family, or to camp in a tent or caravan, than to stay in a hotel, and those who do stay in hotels don't generally do so for months at a time, but more likely a week or two at most. And the hotels don't put on the same sorts of entertainments and hosting/hostessing as in the books badgerbag's been reading.

Date: 2014-02-08 10:45 pm (UTC)
bibliofile: Fan & papers in a stack (from my own photo) (Default)
From: [personal profile] bibliofile
Yes, people with money spend time in comfy climates only. I don't know that there's just one book about it. I think part of the London habit developed back when summer's heat made London's stink less bearable. Those who could escape, did. And people with lots of money had houses in multiple places, especially those country houses with plenty of room for guests (plus of course a full complement of servants to do all the work).

It's not just England. It happened in warmer climates too, for example, in the tropics, retreating to the mountains to avoid hotter weather.

Some people still live in huge houses these days, and it boggles my non-upper-upper-class mind how they live in more than just a few rooms.

Date: 2014-01-26 04:34 pm (UTC)
wild_irises: (Default)
From: [personal profile] wild_irises
N or M was one of my favorites!

The racism does get worse, absolutely.

Christie & dementia

Date: 2014-02-08 10:50 pm (UTC)
bibliofile: Fan & papers in a stack (from my own photo) (Default)
From: [personal profile] bibliofile
Just wanted to note that today's episode of RadioLab included a piece on someone who analyzed the text of Christie's books. He said that in book #73, he noticed that the vocabulary became dramatically more limited plus a couple other things I don't recall. There was also something about th Link to episode here.

There was also a mention of Elephants Can Remember (1972), which may be more autobiographical than people realize: Little old lady character A------- with memory problems who tries to help solve the case.

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