Agatha Christie was born on September 15th, 1890, so to celebrate her 125th anniversary there’ll be a week of entries on her books, on her life, and on a book that influenced her….
Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie
At Long Willows Rowley Cloade had just finished making himself a cup of tea when a shadow falling across the kitchen table made him look up.
If for just a moment he thought the girl standing just inside the door was Lynn, his disappointment turned to surprise when he saw it was Rosaleen Cloade.
She was wearing a frock of some peasant material in bright orange and green - the artificial simplicity of which had run into more money than Rowley could ever have imagined possible.
Up to now he had always seen her dressed in expensive and somewhat towny clothes which she wore with an artificial air - much, he had thought, as a mannequin might display dresses that did not belong to her but to the firm who employed her.
This afternoon in the broad peasant patches of gay colour, he seemed to see a new Rosaleen Cloade. Her Irish origin was more noticeable, the dark curling hair and the lovely blue eyes put in with the smutty finger. Her voice, too, had a softer Irish sound instead of the careful rather mincing tones in which she usually spoke.
“It's such a lovely afternoon,” she said. “So I came for a walk.”
observations: What a post-war delight this one is. Ignore the title – a pointless quotation from Julius Ceasar, without even the justification of a Nine-Tailors-like climax, not even a Twenty Foot Drain giving way. But it’s an under-rated look at the aftermath of WW2, and the people who are restless and don’t want to go back to their boring pre-war lives.
There are eyebrow-raisers for modern readers, like this mother-daughter conversation:
‘All these discharged soldiers – they attack girls.’And Lynn’s attitude (to violence and danger and men’s use of them) doesn’t get any better as the book goes on.
‘I expect the girls ask for it.’
I pointed out in the Guardian a while back the unexpected moment when a maid invites a visitor to join the family, but he ‘negatived this and said he would wait in the study’. It doesn’t sound like a 1948 construction but there it is.
Rosaleen’s brother David is a magnificent character – worrying, violent, unpleasant but with a certain charisma. The TV version of Taken at the Flood is raised to great heights by a startlingly impressive portrayal of him by the actor Elliot Cowan. (Despite the usual mad plot changes.)
There are some standard Christie tropes - impersonation, old men rambling, mysterious strangers - but all are well done, and bring a dark shadow to the sunny village. Also ‘eyes put in with the smutty finger’, above, another of her phrases that I’ve never understood. Help, anyone?
The explanation at the end is very long and complex, but this time it is justifiable and has its own logic: there are some good clues, and a few moments where the reader says ‘yes of course.’
The picture is from the NYPL collection, fashion of the 1940s.