“I had written this book because it was so difficult to do that the idea had fascinated me. Ten people had to die without it becoming ridiculous or the murderer being obvious. […] In fact, it had to have an epilogue in order to explain it. […] The person who was really pleased with it was myself, for I knew better than any critic how difficult it had been.”
– Agatha Christie, from An Autobiography
Well, I am also tremendously pleased with this book! Other than a few Nancy Drews when I was much younger, I’ve never really read a crime novel. This has always seemed odd to me as I am obsessed with crime shows, Poirot especially. I’d always wanted to read Christie’s work but never knew where to start. So, the other day in Waterstone’s I was browsing through the Christie section when this very enthusiastic man came up to me and kept singing all the praises he could muster for And Then There Were None. I think he worked there…I hope he worked there…
He was right, of course. This was an amazing introduction to her ingenious writing as it offered a rather scary insight into the mind of crime novelists ..twisted people they are! Warped!
And Then There Were None is one of those rare books which gives away everything and nothing all at once. You know for a fact that every single person there is going to die, so there’s no surprises. Kinda. However, you have no idea who is going to die or when, but you do know how (well, to a certain extent anyway). Alongside this tale comes a nursery rhyme called Ten Little Soldier Boys (Frank Green, 1869). This rhyme tells the tale of ten boys who, eventually, all die…and the genius behind this entire operation has created their plan to fit in with this rhyme. It is ridiculous, and baffling and utterly incredible. I really don’t know how she came up with it but I can tell you now that I wouldn’t be so keen to come to any mysterious island with her if she were one of my friends.
Each of the ten people were brought to the island under suspicious, but acceptable, circumstances. It is soon brought to light that each of these ten people is guilty of inadvertently killing somebody. And so it begins…
I don’t think I’ve ever been so desperate to get to the bottom of something in my life. It is absolutely gripping from start to finish. Not only that but, despite the complexities, Christie’s writing is a doddle to read! Her writing is simple, while her story lines are absolutely disorientating.
“There’s no cheating: the reader is just bamboozled in a straightforward way from first to last… The most colossal achievement of a colossal career.” – New Statesman
And do you know what? The solution isn’t even that complicated! I am so impressed that I’ve already ordered The ABC Murders and a selection of her short stories. I’m even planning to buy more as soon as I get paid next week (I sooooooo hope that someone doesn’t buy them before then).
I don’t think I’ve been as enchanted by an author since I read Wise Children by Angela Carter…that enchantment wares off after several vulgar scenes of licking found in The Bloody Chamber though. I still love her writing, and admire her skill, but I do wish she’d been much less tongue-obsessed.
Anyway, I plan to devour much more of Christie’s work (my Mum has read every single one of her books but gave them all away…thanks Mum…ugh). I read this book so quickly that I’ve actually left myself with a bit of a holiday reading based dilemma. What am I to read next?! My new Christie books don’t come for like another week. They may or may not come before I go on holiday to France.
An after thought:
Should they have changed the name? I know that, nowadays, we all have to be very careful about what we say, in front of who, under what context and in what manner…but need we be so careful? Perhaps being a white English woman I don’t have the right to determine whether the title should have been changed or not, as I am not the person by whom the offence may be taken. But Christie wrote in a very different time and, perhaps, that should be acknowledged when reading the book.
As a Literature student, the language used in a book is very important when analysing it and, along with the language used, you have to take into consideration the social context. I am not in any way saying that we should all be chanting racial slurs whenever we have the opportunity or the urge to do so but I am concerned that people are so preoccupied with racism, and avoiding it, that suggesting that something is racist can become racist in itself. Let me explain: When I was younger, singing Baa Baa Black Sheep was totally innocent and completely acceptable. However, as I got older I heard that it had to be changed because it was considered racist to use the word “black”. All I could think was that it was outrageous that we would go so far as to say “black”, under any context, is racist. Maybe it’s because “black”, in this case, refers to an animal…I really don’t know! But what I do know is that if it said “white” sheep to begin with there would be no issue, which is why I think this nursery rhyme has been slandered for no reason other than the fact they used the word “black” – it is alliteration! Surely, alliteration is not a crime. As I said, maybe I am not ‘qualified’ to make a judgement here but, then again, maybe I am; if it was called “Ten Little Cowboys” it would not have been changed.
With the recent waves of people claiming that Atticus, in Go Set A Watchman, is suddenly revealed to be a racist I have wondered why people haven’t considered another side of the story: was he not just challenging Jean Louise? Was he not just playing the Devil’s Advocate in order to break the unhealthy worship she held for him? Was he not just pushing her, and us, to our very limits in order to bring himself down to a “human level”? Every one was so quick to pull out the racist card that they didn’t seem to stop and wonder whether it was all an act to manipulate Jean Louise into letting him become less of a God and more of a Dad. Just because he said those awful things doesn’t mean he believes them. I implore every one to at least consider another side of the story.
Who knows? Maybe I’m being naive in thinking that Atticus is still as good a man as we are led to believe in To Kill a Mockingbird but, then again, I think there’s more evidence of that than there is of him being a outright racist.
“I had to kill you, Scout.”
“I’m proud of you.”