Friday, 29 January 2016

Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks

I think this might be my first truly negative review. Normally I just stop reading books I don’t care for.

Anyway, in brief, Notebooks would have made a very entertaining paperback of about half the length it actually is. I’m reluctant to entirely blame the writer – I picture him like Tuppence in her attic with ‘old favourites’ scattered around her, getting much too carried away by his own enthusiasm – but a decent editor should have given it a gentle pruning at the very least. 

Unfortunately the lack of this has resulted in a book long and dry and detailed enough to be a textbook – with each plot device described and a list of all those books where it was used scrupulously included for evidence every single time – but which couldn’t actually be used as a textbook, largely because of the way Curran’s explanations are given not after Christie’s own words, so that the reader could use their own judgement for at least a few blissful seconds, but before.

I found it difficult to work out who the book is for. It’s chock-full of spoilers, and if you’re a fan you’ll find many of the things pointed out are those you’ve already noticed from your own reading of Christie. Whereas if you’re not a Christie fan - well, actually you wouldn’t be reading this book in the first place, would you? - but if you weren’t and you did (maybe if it was 1988 and you were 15 years old and everyone else in the house was watching Nightmare on Elm Street or in bed, and the only other books available were by Barbara Cartland) you would be utterly indifferent.

Actually I’ve read at least two books by Barbara Cartland. Not my cup of tea perhaps but she was good at what she did. She had a lightness of touch sadly missing here.

It’s not all bad - knowing Christie’s device for changing scenes around is interesting, and so is the revelation that she often hadn’t fixed on the murderer until quite late on. (Although I’m not sure that was the case in all of the book jottings Curran uses to support this argument. I think she might sometimes have been plotting red herrings). 

The loose groupings: ‘Murder in Retrospect’ or ‘The Nursery Rhyme Murders’ work well, and Curran does his best to date the notes, which was clearly incredibly difficult because Christie herself dated almost nothing, always had multiple notebooks on the go, and generally used whichever was nearest to hand. Putting the notes of all these tales back together must have been like doing a vast jigsaw puzzle.

They’re also quite cryptic in themselves and reminded me of my notes from work (see about half a list pasted below for reference):


Collating emails – maybe look to see if some of the questions answered by the policies sent. after that will be referral rates.

S11 action chase ups worded as ‘not wanting a gap.. helpful to see the actions from last time...’


Other health partners (shame they’ve all left!)

Other than that check spreadsheet and email to Angela 28th Jan

Sending S11s out to schools

Have everything on except independent school heads. Have started googling. EB going to provide letter/announcement to go.

x-check distribution list

May have to contact Elaine and Darren for CDOP and L&D. Annex A it

Future dates for case review subgroup and MASH
Feb and April ok now. Check Sept. Attendance on spreadsheet for Case review. Booked in for 11th April MASH also booked until April.

Awful aren’t they? They work for me and no-one else.

Now imagine going through all the previous task lists like that, decades of them, and you’ll get an idea of what Curran was undertaking with the Christie notebooks.

So it’s a shame that there’s so much solid work here, and yet it’s so difficult to read.  
Not all the blame can be laid at the foot of the publisher though. Curran has a nasty habit of talking down some of Christie’s work as well. Death in the Sun is a ‘brave but not completely successful experiment.’ Lily’s alibi in Sleeping Murder 'shines out' in an ‘otherwise lacklustre book’. 

I could list twenty more examples, but unlike Curran, I know when to stop. I also know that if these were balanced by irrational enthusiasm about some of the other stories or if what he had written was a more frivolous, shorter, less ‘authorised by family and publishers’ sort of book I would shrug and move on. However in something like this that sets itself up as authoritative it’s much harder to excuse. He’s like one of those mildly but constantly criticising parents who don’t realise just how undermining they are. Or one of those Doctor Who fans who nitpick every episode and slate the producer, the new actor, the sets, but still always watch. 

One for the Christie completist perhaps, but not one I’ll be picking up again.  

And now I’m moving on (sort of) to Agatha Christie – An Autobiography. Wish me luck.

There is no reason this griffin is here. 
I just like him.

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