Monday, January 05, 2009

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW OF LAURA THOMPSON'S AGATHA CHRISTIE: AN ENGLISH MYSTERY

I enjoyed an interview with Laura Thompson on CBC Radio, and I thought her biography of Agatha Christie might well be good reading, even though I am not a fan of its subject.

I enjoy any first-rate biography, and the times Ms. Christie lived through are loaded with interesting events and people. She was moreover a remarkable literary phenomenon, becoming a house-hold name, setting record runs for plays, and creating two unforgettable characters - Miss Marple and M. Poirot.

Reading the first few pages of this book, I was sure that I had been right: this was going to be a fine book. In these pages, Ms Thompson creates almost a prose-poem around the idyllic time in Ms. Christie's childhood.

But my illusion gradually faded: the book is a weak one, having a number of faults.

First, Ms. Thompson uses a huge number of quotes from Ms. Christie, to such an extent I regard them as padding. I don't object to using quotes in the fashion Ms. Thompson does, I just object to the sheer volume of them.

Second, Ms. Thompson, time and again, refers to this or that old photograph, making some special observations about them, but virtually none of these photographs is included in the book's selection of photos.

Third, Ms. Thompson appears to have done a weak job of research on some topics, as for example the crucial one around Ms. Christie's first husband leaving her. I think the questions readers have around that event, and there are many, are left not answered.

Fourth, the sense and drama of history is largely missing from a book covering a remarkable era.

The book is a real disappointment.

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