Friday, December 14, 2007

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

In the 1950s Agatha Christie's British publisher used the slogan "A Christie for Christmas" to promote her latest novel. Still pretty good advice I think. With many new attractive editions of her novels available they make a suitable gift for hard-to-buy-for Aunt Mabel in Moose Jaw or Granny P. in Parksville. And the brief quiet that sometimes follows the carnage of Christmas is perfect for a cozy murder mystery.
But the reading sophisticates among us should hold our sneers at Christie. As many have noted over the years, Christie's books go beyond cosy. An excellent new biography of Christie - Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson shows that "her best books explore the darkest aspects of human nature with a chilling honesty – that they are the opposite of cosy" (review by Jake Kerridge in the Telegraph).

Which one to read? Yann Martel sent Stephen Harper a copy of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in his campaign to get the PM reading (WhatIsStephenHarperReading.com). But even Martel pulls his punches, calling her books "a guilty pleasure". Yet The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, way back in 1926, was a pioneer in the use of the "unreliable narrator". Contemporary writers like Martel (Life of Pi), Ian McEwan (Atonement), and the whole raft of postmodern tricksters like Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy) make use of the device.

Ackroyd is often pointed to as Christie's best. It stars Hercule Poirot as the detective (in this one he is retired, growing vegetable marrows). In Thompson's biography she favours Ackroyd as well but gives top honours to
Five Little Pigs (1942) and The Hollow (1946), "perfect geometric puzzles and perfectly distilled meditations upon human nature". All three of the above are available at the Library in pristine new editions.

For a dissenting opinion on Christie, read A.S. Byatt's piece, "Why I Love Margery Allingham":
"I have never been able to read Agatha Christie - the pleasure is purely in the puzzle, and the reader is toyed with by someone who didn't decide herself who the killer was until the end of the writing".
She's wrong of course.

2 Comments:

Blogger EK said...

I just love Agatha Christie's novels.. Nice post..

10:13 AM  
Blogger The Old Woman said...

I've got a question, that has recently occured to me, and I've foudn it hard to find the answer online and i was wondering if you could help. The whole "the murderer is in the room" cliche, did Christie start it with this novel?

Thank you so much, I would appreciate it infinitely if you are able to answer my question.

10:14 PM  

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