Sunday, 3 May 2015

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

I've had Agatha Christie's autobiography sitting on my TBR pile for several years now and remember buying it because Margaret at Booksplease liked it so much. At the time I hadn't read many of her books other than the ones I'd read as a teenager; now I've read a few more I thought it was time to read her autobiography.

Born Agatha Miller in 1890, Agatha Christie had what can only be termed a charmed childhood. The family weren't rich but they were comfortably upper-middle-class, at least until her father died when the discovery was made that a company in the US had been badly managed and they were in financial difficulties. Up till then Agatha's childhood was idyllic. She had an older brother and sister but was very much the much-loved baby sister and daughter. She goes into great detail about her nanny, 'Nursie', who wouldn't admit to her age, various relatives and their eccentricities, friends she had as a child, places she went and so on. In fact she recalls her childhood with great clarity and takes about half of a 530 page book to do so. Most of it was spent in a house called Ashfield, near the seafront in Torquay in Devon and Agatha was much attached to this beautiful house throughout her life. Even when the family were in straightened circumstances she persuaded her mother not to sell it, when it would have been better to do so because of the cost of upkeep.

She married Archie Christie in her mid-twenties at the start of World War One, and then worked as a nurse and a dispenser during the war. Her sister bet her she couldn't write a crime novel so she set about doing so and produced The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It took several years to get it published and she followed it with more books, but slowly. She found it hard to think of herself as an actual author. Her marriage failed just after her mother died and it was heart-breaking to read her soul-searching. If she had acted differently could she have kept her husband? Meanwhie, as a reader you're thinking what a selfish rotter Archie was... Happily, a couple of years later, she met Max Mallowan, an archaeologist, and a whole new life began. She went off to Syria with him and helped with digs, mainly cleaning whatever was dug up. It was plain she adored doing this and she writes about it at great length in the books, and also in Come, Tell Me How You Live which I highly recommend.

Book followed book and she talks a little about some of them... how they came to be written, her inspiration, her favorite ones, snippets of insight... for instance she felt she'd made Hercule Poirot far too old in his first book and by the time of the last book he would've been over a hundred! She couldn't remember how she's come to invent Miss Marple but thinks she may have been a small character in another book, under another name. One book, The Mystery of the Blue Train she loathes as she forced herself to write it after the death of her mother and the divorce. In the end I think she did consider herself a real author but it took a while and she really doesn't sing her own praises in this autobiography. This is in no way a 'Look at me, I'm wonderful' sort of a book. She is self-deprecating and modest and I particularly liked the very strong vein of wry humour running right through the book.

I very much felt, while I was reading this autobiography, that Agatha Christie was sitting in a chair chatting to me, because the book almost takes the form of a conversation. Yes, it is written more or less chronologically but all through she goes off on various tangents, giving an opinion on this or that, recalling an amusing anecdote, considering historical events such as the two world wars and so on. She says that she wrote only about certain things that she enjoyed or that stuck in her mind. Certainly things have been ommitted but then that's her perogative being a writer writing about her own life. Curious, I've ordered a biography of her by Janet Morgan so as to gain another perspective. But one thing the book has done is made me want to read a lot more of her work and I will do that thing over the course of the next few years.

It's pretty obvious how much I loved this book. I haven't read heaps of autobiographies or biographies, I'll be honest. But I 'can' honestly say that this is the best I've ever read. Agatha Christie's life was extremely interesting both from a personal and historical point of view. I would recommend this to 'anyone' regardless of whether you like her books or not as it's really not about her writing... it's about a unique and fascinating woman and the times she lived through. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography is my book 11 for Bev's 2015 Mount TBR challenge.



DesLily said...

well it's on my wish list now..but truth be told I have so many biographies and autobiographies here that, like you it could sit here for years! lol. But really glad you liked it that much! That's how I felt about Stan and Ollie, and they were not people I was all that interested in. I just remembered their funny movies from when I was a kid. We shall see ... just always so great to enjoy a book so much. I love it when it happens.

BooksPlease said...

I am so glad you enjoyed this too - and that it made you want to read more of her books. There are some real gems amongst her books.

It is one of the best autobiographies - if not the best as you found - that I've read. I can't think of one that comes near it. Maybe I'll have a look at the Stan and Olly book that DesLily mentioned - I too like their films.

BooksPlease said...

Meant to ask - who wrote the Stan and Ollie book?

Val said...

Lovely review :o)

Kay said...

I love her books so much or several of them anyway. I think that I'll need to read this. I almost never read biographies, but I have always found her life fascinating. Does she talk about that time when she went 'missing'? Thanks for sharing about it. If you and Margaret say it's good, I should try it.

Cath said...

Pat: It's lovely but rare to enjoy a book *so* much. I've had a few this year like that. I suppose it wouldn't be any good if all books were wonderful as we'd never really appreciate any of them. LOL!

Margaret: Yes, there are some real gems among her books, I just need to suss out which ones those are. Although last year I enjoyed all of the books I read by her, gem or no.

I think the author of the Stan and Ollie book is Simon Louvish. Is that right, Pat?

Val: Thank you... that means a lot. :-)

Kay: I now want to read heaps of her books. I may even have an Agatha Christie year next year. No, she doesn't talk about the disappearance, just hints at it in one passage. I hope you try the book, I don't think you'll regret it.

Bev Hankins said...

Cath: I loved this too--back when I read it about 20-ish years ago. It's one that I'd love to go back and re-read....if there were only more time in the world.

Cath said...

Bev: Don't worry, I know all about there not being enough time to read or reread everything you'd like to. Especially as you get older.

Penny O'Neill said...

Well, Cath, you've sold me on this. I don't own it, but, have had it on that old TRB list for some time now. Your enthusiasm is contagious and the review outstanding.

Cath said...

Penny: It is utterly delightful. If you decide to read it I hope you love it as much as I did.