Agatha Christie by Lucy Worsley; Marple: Twelve New Stories – Review | Agatha Christie

aGatha Christie was arguably the first contemporary literary figure, and it follows that her long life in writing, from her first novel published in 1920 until her death in 1976 at the age of 85, has been meticulously chosen, not only by journalists during her lifetime. . But by the author herself in her autobiography. So any biographer wishing to offer a new perspective on Christie’s story operates within clear boundaries, not least that many of the most intimate and revealing letters he wrote or received have been destroyed by her family or associates. Except for the miraculous discovery of a cache of hitherto unknown documents, the best a new biography can hope for is to provide a fresh interpretation of some well-thumbed material.

Lucy Worsley Agatha Christie: A very elusive woman It is Christie’s first significant autobiography since Laura Thompson Agatha Christie: An English Mystery in 2007. Unlike Thompson, whose book was a kind of biography of saints, Worsley guided a delicate path between sympathy for her subject and a quick acknowledgment of her flaws. In order to maintain this balance, she must combine a feminist appreciation of the writer’s accomplishments (and the ways in which they have been misrepresented by journalists and biographers) with a stark contemporary condemnation of Christie’s most odious views. She writes: “We have to face the fact that somewhere in the mass of contradictions that made up Agatha Christie was a very dark heart.” “Not only can she dream up stories in which even children can be killed. Her work also contains views of race and class that are unacceptable today.” It is true that some of Christie’s books contain racist and anti-Semitic caricatures that are offensive to contemporary readers, although whether this is evidence of inner darkness and not merely an inevitable byproduct of her background is debatable.

Of course, the biggest mystery at the heart of any Christie’s biography is her 11-day disappearance in December 1926; This was also subject to very different interpretations even as it was happening. Shortly after the death of her beloved mother, Christie’s husband, Archie, informs her that he loves another woman and wants a divorce. She was also under tremendous pressure to give a follow-up to her latest hit, The murder of Roger Ackroyd. She left her young daughter, Rosalind, at home with servants, and drove to Surrey Hills, where her abandoned car was later found smashed into a fence on the edge of a quarry, her clothes and driver’s license still inside. While the police were preparing to haul out the ponds for her body, Christie had made her way to a spa hotel in Harrogate, where she checked in as Mrs. Theresa Neal, bought herself a new wardrobe and went to dance with the other guests. As news of the famous writer’s disappearance reached Harrogate, “Mrs. Neal” was heard to note that Mrs. Christie was “a very elusive character. I can’t be bothered by her”.

Opinions about this episode, at the time and retrospective, fall into two camps: either Christie suffered from real amnesia, or she was a fake. One (male) journalist even suggested that she deliberately accused her husband of murder. Worsley firmly believes that Christie suffered a bout of mental illness (what would now be called a dissociative fugue), and here her sympathy for her subject is at its peak: “It was not the great injustice of Agatha Christie’s life that she was betrayed by her husband as she wept for her mother. Not even distress Mental. The fact that she was so disgraced by her illness was in the national newspapers in such an overt way that people have since suspected her of duplicity and lies.”

While it may offer few startling discoveries, Worsley’s book excels at providing a broader historical perspective on Christie’s life and work, and her enthusiasm is infectious. She asserts that, despite the author’s ostensibly conservative views, Christie’scould She is described as a “secret” feminist, the ultimate proof of which is the enduring popular personality of Jane Marple; Marple’s later novels “all express Agatha’s view of a Britain that has sinned, but one old lady can still be a force for good.”

Since criminal fiction writer Sophie Hannah resurrected Hercule Poirot in 2014 with Christie’s royal blessing, it was only a matter of time before Marple was similarly resurrected, with plenty of speculation over who would inherit such an enviable mission. Turns out the answer is a band width: in Marple: Twelve New StoriesAnd the 12 female writers have contributed to a new story featuring the formidable detective of Saint Mary Mead. The editors have picked a range of voices, including some obvious choices – well-known mystery writers like Val McDermid, Elly Griffiths and Lucy Foley – but they also look outside the genre with a focus on the American market; American authors Leigh Bardugo, Jean Kwok, and Allyssa Cole all reimagine Miss Marple from a new perspective, while remaining faithful to the character’s role as a shrewd observer of human nature and social change.

Julia Mackenzie as Miss Marple 2013. Photo: ITV/Rex/Shutterstock

Notable contributions come from Naomi Alderman, whose story The Open Mind introduces drugs and sexual abuse into the crowded Gothic atmosphere of Oxford College, and Natalie Hines, whose The Unraveling borrows plot threads from the Odysseus myth and Oedipus rex In a seemingly traditional story about village life. Christy Marple has taken to some strange locations in later books, so perhaps Alyssa Cole’s adorable Miss Marple Takes Manhattan comic wasn’t that far off. Fundamentalists may scoff at certain topics or places, but taken as a whole, this highly entertaining collection illustrates Worsley’s conclusion: “Although Miss Marple’s stories have been described as a comforting crime, this is a bold, dark, and disturbing view of the world.” It is also a testament to strength. Standing for the imagination of Christie.

Agatha Christie: A very elusive woman By Lucy Worsley Posted by Hodder & Stoughton (£25). to support guardian And the observer Request your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

Marple: Twelve New Stories Posted by HarperCollins (£20). to support guardian And the observer Request your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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