The week I’m writing about Dame Agatha Christie
She was known as the queen of crime in her day, and she is still considered that today among her throngs of loyal followers. But there was another side to Agatha, a deeper, and a much more elusive side. Under the name, Mary Westmacott, she wrote six psychological romance novels.
Absent in the Spring
The Rose and the Yew
A Daughter’s Daughter
But who among her devoted fans has actually read any of them?
Well, me, for one. I’ve always loved the Agatha Christie mysteries and have read all of her detective novels, short stories and plays. As a long-time member of the Agatha Christie Society, her mystery characters and story lines were discussed in great detail every month in a newsletter hosted by her grandson, Matthew Pritchard. The Society has long since been disbanded, but the interest in her novels is as fresh today as it was when they were first published.
But I digress. I was talking about Dame Agatha’s “other side”.
While browsing an antique store several years ago, I was thrilled to find some old and very used copies of her romance novels. Of course I grabbed them up. I was ecstatic to have found all of these novels because I had heard that some of them were no longer in print. When I got home, I sat down and began to read Unfinished Portrait. The story drew me in right from the beginning, just like all her novels. It was light and easy reading at first, and I couldn’t put it down. But then, towards the middle it got serious. And near the end, it was absolutely morose. I recognized the parallel between this novel, and her early life and marriage to Archie Christie. She herself was the protagonist here. She described in great detail the way she felt about her husband, her daughter, and her state of mind after her mother’s death, and while she was going through her bitter divorce. But since it was supposed to be fiction, I was hoping the novel would have a happy ending. It didn’t. And the twist at the end was devastatingly painful to read. I felt depressed for days afterward.
I decided that the best way to rid myself of these feelings was to read another, surely they couldn’t all be like this, so I picked up, The Rose and the Yew. It was just as morose and depressing as Unfinished Portrait, yet I couldn’t put it down, I had to find out if this one had a happy ending. To my despair, the ending to The Rose and the Yew was even more tragic. I waited a few days to get over the depressive feelings I had from reading it, and forced myself to pick up Giant’s Bread, which was touted by many reviewers as her masterpiece. I was sure this romance novel would be different. I was wrong. I tried one more, Absent in the Spring. A pointless waste of time because the protagonist ended up the same at the end of the story as she was in the beginning, although she’d had an epiphany half-way through it so I thought there might be some hope for her. Wrong again.
While Dame Agatha’s character studies in each of these novels was brilliant, I found that her stories were extremely difficult to read. I still have two novels that I haven’t opened, and they’ll probably remain that way.
Why Agatha Christie needed to make her romances so tragic can only be conjecture on my part. Perhaps it was because her life, at that time, was also tragic and she wanted to point out that not all love stories have happy endings.
While I was disappointed, I have to admit that all of her stories had an impact on me, mostly because I’ll never forget the emotions they evoked while I was reading them. And isn’t that the trademark of a true storyteller?
I’d love to hear your views on this subject, so please feel free to leave a comment.