Tuesday, 28 February 2017

TNC: Christie & the Wrong Kind of Love

 
In the month of Valentine’s Day, the Tuesday Night bloggers, a group of crime fiction fans doing a themed entryLove logo each week, could really only go with the theme of


LOVE


As ever, Bev at My Reader’s Block did the splendid logo.


And Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery is collecting the links this month.


 
For my first entry I looked at Love in Agatha Christie.

Then I looked at James Bond in Love.

This week I am going back to the sainted Agatha, to consider:
 

The Other Side of Love in Agatha Christie


Nemesis (1971) and Sleeping Murder (1976)


Christie Love Problem 2


First of all, those publication dates are misleading – Christie wrote Sleeping Murder during WW2, along with the last Poirot book, Curtain, and held them both back, intending them to be published at the end of her career.


 
This blogpost will be slightly spoileresque – I will not be revealing murderers, but will be talking about the plot in a way that I consider would only be a spoiler if you were halfway through the books, or intended reading them in the next week. Otherwise, you are safe.


 
I started on Nemesis recently, and was sufficiently struck by a certain similarity to Sleeping Murder that I re-read that one too. In both cases, the problems revolve round one person having an inappropriate love for another. They end up killing the love object in order to stop them from getting away: they are not in a position to offer the loved one a proper relationship. The women in my previous post may be unorthodox or adulterous, or in love with someone less than perfect, but they are all in love with a vaguely eligible man of roughly the right age.

There may be other Christies with this theme – the wrong sort of love - though I can’t think of any. She spread her motives round a lot: money, revenge, the desire for something likely (a new partner) or unlikely (teashops and - you know, the motive in Crooked House), fear of the discovery of a different crime. But these two share this rather creepy idea.

Nemesis is an oddity. It follows on from A Caribbean Mystery – published seven years earlier, events taking place 18 months before this book, and frankly both of them read as though they belong in the 1950s. Jason Rafiel from the first book has died, and left Miss Marple a bequest, while setting her a challenge: to right a wrong. He writes to her:
If you prefer to continue knitting, that is your decision. If you prefer to serve the cause of justice, I hope that you may at least find it interesting. Let justice roll down like waters. And righteousness like an everlasting stream.
[This reminded me of my favourite line about Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver:
She has solved many difficult cases besides being an extremely expert knitter.]
Of course Miss Marple accepts the challenge, and off she goes on a luxury coach tour of English houses and gardens, looking for trouble. This promises well, with a good look round the coach at the varied participants – who has something to hide, who knows each other? It’s a scene Christie always does well – another good example comes in Death on the Nile. But then the action settles in one place and pretty much stalls. There are endless conversations going on for pages during which one item of relevance is revealed. Miss Marple, bizarrely, stays in a hotel, moves to a private house, goes back to the hotel, goes back to the same house – there are endless scenes of packing and unpacking, and we are told who is carrying the suitcase, but it is all painfully irrelevant. We hear Miss Marple’s views on how Macbeth should be staged, and by now that’s relatively interesting.

I also like the detail that after someone has died, Miss Marple
laid aside the baby’s pink coat which she had previously been engaged in knitting and substituted a crocheted purple scarf. This half-mourning touch went with Miss Marple’s early Victorian ideas of tactfulness in the face of tragedy.
There is a fairly awful discussion about an accusation of rape, though the situation is so bizarrely unrecognizable – a temptress, a very young woman, luring in a young man and virtually forcing him to have sex before making the accusation on her mother’s sayso - that you just have to shake your head and move on.

With all these problems, still the book has an elegiac tone and the central romance is touching and very very sad.
‘Why did she die?’ said Miss Marple.
[Miss Temple's] voice was bitter and tragic. ‘Love….’

Christie Love Problem 1


As a detective story, Sleeping Murder is much better, reflecting its earlier date of writing. There is an onward thrust about it: this happens and then that happens, and then everyone thinks of someone else to go and see.

A young woman suddenly remembers a traumatic incident from her childhood – an extremely creepy scene, glimpsed through the banisters, of a strangled woman, an unrecognized figure looming over her. Miss Marple comes and helps Gwenda and her husband Giles, and they untangle another sad and complex story.

A problem with Curtain was that Christie didn’t root it in its time because she didn’t know when it would be published – I think she decided she didn’t care with Sleeping Murder, and you certainly wouldn’t think it was set in 1976. Everyone has a comfortable post-war life and house, there are servants everywhere, and Gwenda goes to see Gielgud act.



Christie Love Problem 3


One infuriating feature of both these books is that no-one can remember names. I realize this is possibly realistic, but Christie goes overboard, every conversation is full of ‘I can’t remember his name, did it begin with an E?’ – but it is pointless, there is no reason for it, it’s not a clue. So for example in Nemesis someone thinks Verity Hunt might have been called Verity Hunter – but there is no conclusion drawn from this, it is just annoying. And it seems particularly stupid when in other books Christie makes small differences in names very important (A Murder is Announced, Peril at End House.)

A Clothes in Books favourite is clothes detection,  and Lily the maid in Sleeping Murder is on top form when it is claimed her mistress has run off:
‘there’s a suitcase gone and enough to fill it – but they’re the wrong things…She took an evening dress, her grey and silver - but she didn’t take her everning belt and brassiere, nor the slip that goes with it, and she took her gold brocade evening shoes, not the silver strap ones. And she took her green tweed… but she didn’t take that fancy pullover and she took her lace blouses that she only wears with a town suit. Oh and her undies too, they were a job lot.’
Wonderful stuff.

There are TV films of both these books in the Geraldine McEwan series, and both have wildly altered plots and but actually are great fun in a gothic, over the top way, with marvellous casts. And, intriguingly, Daffodil Tours from the book of Sleeping Murder, with its bright yellow buses, is borrowed for the TV Nemesis.

I love William Orpen’s paintings, particularly his portraits, and often use them on the blog. He is also just about the only modern (1878-1931) painter ever mentioned by Agatha Christie - see this blog entry for details. So I have chosen a couple of his wonderful pictures to show the young women of these books, and the child Gwenda.




























32 comments:

  1. How interesting, Moira, that you see the parallels between there stories. They're definitely there in my opinion - you've done an excellent job making that point. And as for the wrong side of love, I'll have to think about that. As you say, Christie came up with all sorts of motives for murder...

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    1. I was thinking of examples of motives just for illustrating my theory - but it was a fascinating byway, the list is very extensive. I'd love to see a Margot blogpost on that subject...

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  2. The similarity in motive is interesting given the time difference between the two books. Both of firm favourites of mine, so I think I somehow managed to miss the annoyances you had. Whilst I coped with ITV's creative approach to Sleeping Murder, Nemesis was several steps too far for me. Perhaps because I liked the original story more the absurdity of Nazis and Nuns was just too much to bear, making a farce of a much more sinister novel set in the everyday. Thankfully there is always Joan Hickson to fall back on.

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    1. You definitely had to separate off your thoughts on book and film in the case of Nemesis. I think the plot of the book could be a strong one, but she lost me with all the pointless chitchat. And yet - it is memorable, the sadness and the melancholy.

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    2. Yes, the nuns were a bit of a weird addition - but then I don't find them scarey, I think the idea is that they are automatically a worry to good honest Protestatnts.

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    3. Nuns ARE supposed to scare us in the book with the teashop! Maybe you had to go to parochial school to get it . . . ??

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    4. I know! And I always thought it was an odd moment. I think Daniel was referring to the introduction of nuns into the film of Nemesis - but I could be wrong! But that's what I was talking about. Password: Teashops.

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    5. Also making a REALLY cheesy Agatha joke/pun. In fact, it's the same joke we used for one of the image captions in the Agatha Christie partwork magazine that accompanied the Marple: Nemesis DVD, we were always trying to sneak in little jokes like that where captions or passing references echoed other AC titles or ideas...

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    6. (A bit like that Doctor Who episode with Agatha Christie where the script is FULL of silly lines like that - like "The Moving Finger." Probably the best one is "Why didn't they ask... Heavens!")

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    7. I can't believe I missed that on my first reading! Now I'm going to be thinking of my own - it'll be evil under the pun.

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  3. I listened to Nemesis as an unabridged audiobook and in my view it is not Agatha's finest hour. It could have done with the firm hand of an editor apart from anything else. I am very interested in love that is outside the usual man and woman romance as a motive for murder. For the writer it opens up all sorts of possibilities.
    The tea-room, how I love that, Moira, how deeply I sympathise, what a stroke of genius, won't say more.

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    1. It was a stroke of genius, I agree. Some claim it is not an adequate motive, but I feel strongly it is one of her most convincing, it's terrifically well done.

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    2. I think so, too. That wistful yearning . . .
      I love the way we Agatha aficionados just have to say tea-room and no more need be said.

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    3. That's one of many reasons that tea-room book is my favourite for that particular sleuth.

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    4. Yes. It's like a secret password for the true Christie lovers...

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  4. I'm with Christine here, Moira: give me the book with the tea-room any day. Sleeping Murder strikes me as an odd choice for a posthumous novel, but at the time, Christie had only written a couple of books about Miss Marple, so maybe she had a vague sense that she would up the output but no real idea as to how to end Miss M.'s career. I think SM has a great set-up and conclusion (although the use of the classic theatre quote pretty much gave the game away for me), but the rest of the characters are never really developed, so it has the must uninteresting group of red herrings I've ever seen. As for Nemesis . . . what a great ending, but most of it meanders horribly. I can't help wishing that we could all sit down and figure out how to rewrite this one since it seems, by far, more of a swan song for Miss Marple, and the old lady deserved better!

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    1. Oh YES, a crowd-sourced better version of Nemesis is a great idea, Brad. I was vaguely thinking that it could be a much much better book than it is, and that would be the way to achieve it!

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  5. When Sleeping Murder was published, I was enchanted to read a perfect, vintage Christie (and haven't changed my opinion) though surprised it wasn't a "final case" as had been originally promised. But that's quite okay. I can envisage Miss Marple sleuthing on forever, and it is always nineteen fifty-five.

    The Joan Hickson TV version was excellent. The Gwendolyn MacEwan version hit rock bottom in a series of lows (and I never did bother with Nemesis.)

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    1. I remember liking it when it was first published, too. I thought it was a nice way to 'end' the series without really ending it.
      I am going to have to hunt out those Hicksons...

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  6. Because my definition of spoilers is way too strict (I admit), I dithered about whether to read this, so I kind of skimmed. Because these are Marple books, which I potentially will finish sooner than the Poirot books, and because I have considered reading the "last" Marple and Poirot books earlier since they were written earlier. I hope that makes sense.

    Encourages me to get reading on my Miss Marple books, anyway. And I love the images you used.

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    1. Yes, you should probably read Sleeping Murder after The Moving Finger, or certainly along with the 40s/50s books. The Poirot, however, should definitely be the last one you read in sequence - not least because it'll be MUCH better than Elephants can Remember, which I think is the last Poirot AC wrote....

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    2. Thanks for the feedback on that, Daniel. That means I can move on reading Sleeping Murder soon, because The Moving Finger is the last Marple I read.

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    3. Good point, you could choose where to place Miss Marple in your chronological reading. You will enjoy it Tracy. And Daniel, thanks for the good advice!

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  7. Agatha and the love theme...off to get a pen and paper, right up my street.

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    1. I knew you'd love it. Will expect your companion post soon...

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  8. Yes, NEMESIS does show something of a tailing off from the 30 years younger SLEEPING MURDER, although the former book does have a lot to recommend it. I've always felt that Christie seemed to have an instinctive understanding of what happens when love turns toxic, and infatuation becomes obsession. It does turn up a lot in her works, and is one of the reasons that they remain so affecting.

    AC could have done with an editor in her later years, and it is interesting to see how the writer/actor/director Trevor Bowen took on that role in the definitive Joan Hickson TV adaptions, He adapted both of the books discussed here for the series, and he does a fine job in excision, addition and pointing up the important themes and scenes of the books without losing the the essence of the originals. I read an interview with one of the writers of the more recent ITV show, and when he asked about fidelity to the originals the Producers told him to keep a few of the character names, but otherwise he could chuck away the original stories and write what he liked!

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    1. Yes, I think she is much more incisive on matters of love than she gets credit for. Of course she uses stereotypes - for shorthand, and to trap the reader - but her studies of marriages and different kinds of love are compelling.
      I watched the Hicksons when they were new, but haven't seen them since - I should get hold of them.

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  9. A little late seeing this one, but I just had to add that I only discovered William Orpen fairly recently from watching Antiques Roadshow. Love his portraits.

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    1. They're wonderful aren't they? I only discovered him since doing the blog, it's been an unexpected joy.

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  10. Yes! It's so nice to find something you love that's been there all the time.

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