I know I promised to read a book a month and post about it and I know February was a really long time ago. There are a number of excuses I could spout here but there’s really no point in doing that. My mom always says “what did you learn from this?” when I screw up…
…therefore: it is not always possible to do things as originally planned. I said Nietzsche and I guess I really, truly meant Agatha Christie!
“Any coincidence,” said Miss Marple to herself, “is always worth noticing. You can throw it away later if it is only a coincidence.”
I picked one of her books, an interesting murder mystery from a library sale titled Nemesis, as it looked quick and easy to read (I don’t have all the time in the world to analyze philosophy on top of classes!) The books is especially strange, since I suppose in 1972 books like these had ads in them. They were trying to sell readers cigarettes and perfume mid murder mystery!
Agatha Christie is the strangest woman. She wrote 66—sixty-six—crime novels in her lifetime and 14 short story collections. That’s a lot of writing.
Also she happens to be the best-selling author of all time.
This is all very impressive, but the wildest thing about this famed and damed (she was honored as a Dame after her enormous literary success) author is that she disappeared mysteriously for 10 days.
To make a long story short: Agatha and her husband were fighting and preparing to divorce, when he left to go hang with his lover. Agatha wrote a letter saying she too was going to hang somewhere chill (Yorkshire) but she was not in Yorkshire or seen anywhere really; her car was found empty and abandoned on a road. For those 10 days mass hysteria ensued with a giant police force searching for her—she was even featured on The New York Times front page!
Then—she was found in the Swan Hydropathic Hotel under the name of her husband’s lover. She never explained or referenced the disappearance in her own memoirs. Many theories floated about: publicity stunt, trying to embarrass her husband, a result of her overworked state and her mother’s recent death, some doctors say a Fugue state…but none of these have explained the strange disappearance and blasé reappearance of Christie. At the very least, it made for some good writing material for those 66 books, of which I would encourage anyone to pick up at any time. But now, onto one of those, a Jane Marple (one of her serial detectives) mystery, Nemesis.
The Who, the What, the Where, the Whatever:
In this particular piece, we have a number of humans to keep track of. They are as follows:
- Miss Jane Marple: an older woman with a penchant for crime and a serious intuition for evil, she is our main character and obsessed with gardening.
- Verity: our corpse, a schoolgirl of the teenage persuasion, she began to live with three sisters who were friends of her deceased parents, after falling in love with a boy she mysteriously disappeared and was apparently found with her head bashed in!
- Mr. Rafiel: the newly deceased friend of Miss Marple from an earlier novel, as a rich and clever man he led Miss Marple to Verity’s case in his will for mysterious reasons…
- Michael Rafiel: the son of Mr. Rafiel, wicked by nature and always getting into trouble, he’s imprisoned for the murder of Verity of which the details are still unknown as he claims to be innocent.
- Clotilde: one of the three sisters and the loving caretaker of Verity when her parents passed suddenly, she loved Verity like a daughter, Miss Marple thinks of her as an “Ophelia-type” constantly.
- Mrs. Glynne: one of the three sisters and “plain but pleasant-looking” according to Miss Marple.
- Anthea: one of the three sisters, definitely has issues: she can’t look at people straight and says strange things.
Of course, I couldn’t put every character on here, but just enough to paint a picture.
Miss Marple, according to the will of Mr. Rafiel (with whom she prevented a murder in the West Indies before his death) finds herself on a paid-for garden tour where she is to stay with the three sisters and learns of Michael Rafiel and the violent death of young Verity. Strange things begin to occur: another death and a foreboding feeling in the town where Verity died. Miss Marple enjoys gardens and walks, as she slowly untangles the complexities of Verity’s death…
This is a lovely light read and a very pretty, retro-looking novel. I would really recommend Agatha Christie to anyone. She’s likely a good gateway drug to crime novels. The book is no Tolstoy but it’s got some good language and dialogue. I especially appreciate the copious descriptions on gardens which is a fun juxtaposition to death and murder and also, in a way, an appropriate one (can you say life from death? hope for justice? this metaphor has legs.)
However, I always try to read critically and I would be remiss to ignore the glaring differences in attitude towards crime during this time. Christie is a traditional woman from middle-class England, born in the early part of the twentieth century. The attitude towards rape in this book is astonishing and also interesting for that reason.
Only recently has punishment and public shame for this crime been so fervent (you could still legally rape your wife in the eighties, after all), but the mention of that part of this murder in this book is strange…
First, the jarring attitude comes from male characters, which is an interesting choice. What does Christie mean by putting these words in these mouths?
Second, these rapes are painted as frivolous and motivated by social shame (which could very well be true, but perhaps not in the way they are explained here.)
One male character says: “Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be. Their mothers insist, very often, that they should call it rape. The girl in question had had several boyfriends who had gone further than friendship.” (Christie, 111.)
While a lawyer later affirms: “Well, we know what rape is nowadays. Mum tells the girls she’s got to accuse the young man of rape even if the young man hasn’t had much chance, with the girl at him all the time to come to the house while Mum’s away at work or Dad’s gone on holiday. Doesn’t stop badgering him until she’s forced him to sleep with her.” (Christie, 134.)
Interestingly, Mrs. Glynne later says in reference to Michael Rafiel and the rapes he’d been accused of: “Once assaulting a teen-ager—other things of that type. Of course I consider myself that the magistrates are too lenient with that kind of thing. They don’t want to upset a young man’s university career. And so they let them off with a—I forget what they call it—a suspended sentence, something of that kind. If these boys were sent to jail at once, it would perhaps warn them off that type of life.” (Christie, 141.)
I can’t quite discern what Christie is doing here…if she were condemning the 70s attitude for rape, you’d think she wouldn’t continually define it as a nagging-mother’s solution for prudency or as a device to slut shame teenage girls for accepting their sexuality. Conversely, the mention of a girl forcing a boy to have sex is, in fact rape, but just in reverse order of sex. Either way: these men are quite lost on what is and isn’t rape!
It could, however, be a subtle critique. I think it’s telling that the men in these dialogues condemn rape as an inconvenient blame game, while the women are either skeptical (as Miss Marple seems to be) or critical of those who remain lax on punishment for assault.
I have to applaud Christie if this is the case; she both appeals to those who side with the gentlemen (at the time, authority figures) while also slipping in a solution that is reasonable: let’s jail them first and stop them before crime is their career.
One really ought to follow their gut. That’s what Miss Jane Marple does and that’s what I did when I knew I couldn’t finish all that Nietzsche in one month (the shortest of the year too!) This post is later than I wanted to post and I’m already reading March’s book, which will hopefully be posted about by April.
If you would like to join me in reading, by all means please do. I’m doing The House on Mango Street right now (SUPER quick read if you want to pick it up and tell me how you feel about it) and then I’m working on a two-parter: Inventing the Enemy which is a series of essays by Umberto Eco (one of my all-time favorite writers) and the novel that is its friend The Prague Cemetery also by Umberto Eco, which I’m finding to be a thick and complicated text. This is a good thing: it means it has a lot of re-reading to it!
Or, you can just read my Bookths series where I’m just going to talk about the experiences I have reading these books, which is as unique the first time as the next. I hope maybe if you’re looking for something to read, I can help!
Thanks for joining, bisous et plus bisous,
Christie, Agatha. Nemesis. Pocket Books, 1973, New York, New York.