Saturday, 2 September 2017

Book Reviews - Agatha Christie and David Lodge

David Lodge – The British Museum is Falling Down

Apparently David Lodge wanted to call this book The British Museum Has Lost it's Charm, a line from a song he was listening to while writing it, but his publishers couldn't get permission. Personally I prefer the title he ended up with. The other isn't funny enough, and despite being a little bleak in places, this is a very funny book. 

Unlike his campus novels it's also very clearly a book about being Catholic in the 60s, and in particular the rules about contraception and the lunatic intricacies of the rhythm method, which is still, fifty years later, the only method of birth control the Catholic Church endorse. 

So for people like the young couple in Museum, with three children already and possibly another one on the way which they can’t afford and haven’t space for, there’s a sense that all around them London is swinging, but they’re not invited to play, and a hope that the Church will finish deliberating on the pill and let them use the rotten thing. In the meantime they wait.   

So it’s funny but a bit painful – there a strong sense of not being able to have a proper grip on events because you don’t know what fate will throw at you next, and the single day that this book covers is all that in microcosm.

What really made me laugh though was the reference to the bus. It never occurred to me to question it when I was growing up but now it’s been drawn to my attention I can see that there is something very, very odd about that fixation on the bus that might knock you down tomorrow with your soul less than shiny-bright.

It’s odd to think that presumably other people (my own father in fact) grew up without the bus. Or maybe had a bus that knocked you down: squish, finito, and made you more careful when crossing the road.

Three Act Tragedy – Agatha Christie.

Reading this was part of the sporadic Christie reread I’m doing. I didn’t really remember the plot, but I knew I definitely had read it before because as soon as the murderer came onstage I remembered he was the murderer, and because I thought the first time round (as I think now), that the girl called ‘Egg’ might have wandered in from an earlier book - except Christie’s women don’t usually have such a deep and unpleasant streak of jealousy as Egg seems to have.  

Beyond Egg – who is one of our four sleuths, but apparently more interested in attracting Charles the Actor (whose surname I have already forgotten) than catching a murderer – we have Mr Satterthwaite, whose prosaic self is normally seen in conjunction with (and offset by) the otherworldly Mr Quin, Hercule Poirot, who we see very little of until about half way (when a chance meeting with Satterthwaite brings him back to England) and Charles the Actor himself, who does a lot of whizzing about and sleuthing in precisely the way Poirot insists is most pointless but which impresses the impressionable Egg. 

I have to add at this point that it’s quite hard to see someone called Egg as a romantic heroine, especially if you’ve read a lot of P G Wodehouse. Her real name is Hermione, which doesn’t help much.  Hermione is the name even J K Rowling couldn’t bring back into fashion.

The book is well worth reading, although the use of multiple detectives doesn’t work quite as well for me as it does in Cards on the Table, and so Christie suffers unfairly by being compared with another Christie. 

I also found myself out of sympathy with the romance between Egg and Charles, and with the young man of her own age who’s in love with her.

Less of these people, I wanted to say, and more Poirot please.

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