Monday, November 7, 2011

AGATHA CHRISTIE, paradoxical survivor in those modern times

Strange how Dame Christie’s oeuvre still sells in such huge quantities. When one gets familiar with her plots, one discovers they generally follow the same pattern. The trick comes back under different disguises which are not that sophisticated, generally limited to a sophism in the form of an erroneous interpretation of visible facts, of the real meaning of a seemingly innocent trespass of post-Edwardian order. The dramatis personae are mostly uninteresting, barely elaborated, engulfed in a forgotten world of parlor-maids, butlers and spinsters. Here and there one encounters a blushing but vicious attack against some marginal male gay individual (often an antiquarian or collector). The heroes of this Pantheon of clichés are Hercule Poirot and Mrs. Jane Marple, both equally insufferable and repetitive.

But meanwhile the novels of the Dame of the British Empire continue to sell! “The murder of Roger Ackroyd“ is probably the best book she wrote. The spy genre is better left alone and forgotten. Nevertheless, this magnum opus continues to end up in the hands of a cult of readers worldwide. All those nubile girls and Wodehouse types continue to entrance, why? In a marathon this dame would easily beat Ian Fleming , John LeCarre, Ruth Rendell or P.D. James. Her strength lies in her therapeutic skill. Her pen is dripped in Valium. She is the ultimate matron who presents a totally amoral scenario, where fools and innocents merge. Murder is presented as a bump in normality and the victim is mourned by the house personnel, while his or her kin run for the bottle and want to get back to normal, on the back of veracity. At the end of the stories Poirot or Mrs. Marple usually give some didactic and pedantic exposé about the past drama which meanwhile has already been reduced to a nasty unwelcome interruption of what was supposed to be a banal week-end wherein cocktails helped to get over mutual loathing, petty hate, and uninteresting “affairs”. The glimpse always overtakes the kiss and elderly men always fall for the young who remain infatuated as long as the check does not bounce.

Agatha is the ideal companion for the depressed, the stressed and the lazy. She spins her “dramas” like some indifferent chamber music, which reassures, bores and at the same time soothes. There is often a Proustian reflex in the Christie reader. She fits perfectly in a hospital room. By the way, her starched nurses are often part of the crowd of villains.

She gets totally lost when she has to deal with “real” couples. Tuppence and Tommy, who do not dare to approach the realm of sex, are the Macbeths of domestic hell. Other couples who are still “in the make” mode are equally dull and adverse to the allure of the flesh. King George V and Queen Mary must have been the aristocratic counterparts of this middle-class, exhausting depression.

Still, we will continue to read her. She poses no threat. She manipulates sexless personae, old bores, young nerds in a disguised class struggle, which could be hell, if she had not intervened to extinct flames, lust and sin. Her murderers and victims share a moral no-man’s-land, where the supposed virtues of the latter are as uninspiring as the vices one generally attributes to the former. In reality, Dame Christie is the ultimate egalitarian. As in Mozart’s operas (sorry for comparing the incomparable), the maid plays on an equal field with the Marchioness. In the end, she is unconscious of change, writing and repeating the same story, with a twist, and in doing so she helps us to ignore that the butlers have left, a long time ago.

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