Monday, August 16, 2010
In a not very flattering article about Agatha Christie in THE NEW YORKER last week, as part of a review on a new book by John Curran entitled Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, Joan Acocella claims that Ms. Christie made sure no one could solve her puzzles because she provided little if any psychological depth to her characters.
Acocella also says "that any guessing we might do is fruitless because the solution to the mystery involved a fantastic amount of background information we are not privy to until the end of the book when the detective tells us." So it isn't so much that Christie was master puzzle-maker, but that she didn't allow the reader to figure it out. .
But even more damning, you cannot come away from this article thinking well of Ms. Christie either as a writer or a person. It is quite a long article and also delves into the racism, sexism, and xenophobia running through her books. Most of this went right over my head when I read all of her books in the seventies. I was reading entirely for the puzzle I think.
Another criticism, I've heard mentioned was Christie hard on the British lower classes. As Julian Symons said in his seminal work BLOODY MURDER, "the social order in these stories was as fixed as that of the Incas." And Symons was a more contemporaneous assessment.
What to you think? What strengths do you find in her work? Were her contemporaries any less subject to the prejudices of the time (Tey, Sayers, Marsh, Allingham)? Did they give their characters a firmer underpinning? Did they view the world with less prejudice? Did they play more fair with clues. I read them all years ago but haven't revisited except for Tey's Daughter of Time.
Or is the writer all wet in her observations? Defend Christie someone. Certainly our times define us to some degree, but did she fail to enlighten herself?