Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie (1962)

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I had a lot of things to say about books and no-one in real life to say them too! My cat, while patient and prepared to listen, did not provide me with any sort of useful feedback (although obviously the purring was very much appreciated). So, in response to that need, HereIRead was started. After a few months of posting whenever I felt like it, I realised that this blog provided me with a great opportunity to practise my writing discipline. I could use my new outlet to help me be a better writer! So I set myself the goal of publishing one review every week at 9am on a Wednesday every week, rain, hail or shine. 500 words once a week couldn't be that hard, right?

Wrong. Writing about books is hard! It takes hours to read a book and not every book is interesting enough to write about. Some weeks I have loads of time for reading and some weeks hardly at all, a clear factor that affects the volume of books I can get through. A long, dense book - the kind of book, honestly, that I really love! - can take weeks to get through and then a few more days to mull over. Hence, fewer reviews. It turns out I'm just as bad at writing on deadline for a blog where I get to talk about something I really love as I am every other writing deadline I set for myself in every other part of my live.

So, here I am, two weeks and five days over my self-imposed deadline, reviewing one of my favourite authors ever: Agatha Christie. My pathway to this book, The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side was circuitous. Last Monday, I read Beyond the Looking Glass: Narcissism and Female Stardom in Studio-Era Hollywood by Ana Salzburg (see what I mean? I read a whole book but it's no good for the blog because it's an academic text so only of interest to film scholars. I give it four stars.) and there was a chapter on Gene Tierney. Salzburg notes that nowadays Tierney is mainly remembered for her tragic story - while pregnant, she contracted German measles and gave birth to a child with severe disabilities, following which Tierney experienced a series of nervous breakdowns. Years later, she met a fan who recounted how she broke quarantine for German measles to meet Gene, possibly thus infecting her at the same time. Salzburg argues that part of the reason that this story is so prominent in Tierney's story is its fictionalisation by Dame Agatha in The Mirror Crack'd. I love Christie novels, the book's tangential relationship with Hollywood means reading it would not be procrastination but study for my thesis, and it was available on Open Library. Done!

The Mirror Crack'd is a Miss Marple novel and much of the story takes place in her small house in the village of St Mary's Mead. St Mary's Mead, once a quiet town where everyone knew everyone, is changing, for example with the building of a new estate (called "the Development" by Miss Marple and her elderly friends). Miss Marple's friend Mrs Bantry complains about the local supermarket, which is full of giant boxes of cereal and where it can take fifteen minutes to find everything you need (!!!). Christie is a keen documenter of the changes in middle-class England in the twentieth century, and the book is full of pithy observations about changes in women's roles, skills and ambitions. What I like best about the way Christie does it is that there a faint scent of nostalgia for the way things were, with dedicated servants devoting themselves to their masters, but in the main part she recognises that times change and in fact modern times provide all sorts of benefits (especially for women), although she does seem to find it hard not to snark on how much sex the youngs have, which is quite hilarious from a modern perspective.

The drama in Mirror occurs when a film star Marina Gregg and her producer husband buy the local country house. They remodel it and then open in to host a local fête. At a small private reception given by the famous pair, one of the organisers of the event, a Mrs Badcock, is slipped a fatal dose of a drug in her drink and quietly expires. Without any real enemies (Mrs Badcock's greatest sin was being a slightly annoying busy body, a characteristic that is almost always proves fatal in cosy murder mysteries), suspicion falls first on her husband because, as Miss Marple sagely observes, "It so often is the husband." When he is cleared (temporarily, of course), the police start to question whether the intended victim was in fact Marina. Was it her husband? Her abandoned adopted children? A jealous ex-lover?

Because this is an Agatha Christie novel, the plot is full of twists and turns, red herrings and dead ends. The bodies pile up in a somewhat alarming (but entertaining) fashion, but the focus is always on Miss Marple's parlour and the vague thoughts that, as soon as they crystallise, will help her solve
the murder. I don't if it's because I knew the true story the novel was based on (i.e., the big twist) or because deep down I knew that reading this novel didn't really count as studying, but I didn't enjoy this book as much as I usually do the work of Dame Agatha. That said, it was still a cracking read, both entertaining as a mystery and as a social commentary on the passing of time. Three stars.

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