Monday, 29 April 2013

cards on the table

In March I read Cards On The Table by Agatha Christie. I'm continuing to read through, more or less in date order, the Agatha Christies I haven't yet read. I actually enjoyed this one - from 1936 - quite a lot, certainly the best of hers I'd read for a while, working with a multiple set of detectives and a multiple set of people who had possibly/probably previously got away with murder.

She's generally more witty than people give her credit for, and what would be considered postmodern in other writers, regularly referring to what would happen in detective fiction. I can't remember if I've noted down before the one in which thre was supposedly some supernatural activity/curse going on and someone said - quite early on - that in novels it always turned out to be actually poison, and that's in fact what it turned out to be, which shows a high degree of nerve.

Ariadne Oliver, her detective author character, who's always regretting having lumbered herself with a Finnish detective, is in this one, and has this good exchange (from p113 of my 1981 Fontana edition with a bit edited out) with the friend of a suspect, the end of which is excellent:

'Oh, Mrs Oliver, it must be marvellous to write.'
Mrs Oliver rubbed her forehead with a carbonny finger and said: 
'Oh,' said Rhoda, a little taken aback. 'Because it must. It must be wonderful just to sit down and write off a whole book.'
'It doesn't happen exactly like that,' said Mrs Oliver. 'One actually has to *think*, you know. And thinking is always a bore. And you have to plan things. And then one gets stuck every now and then, and you feel you'll never get out of the mess - but you do! Writing's not particularly enjoyable. It's hard work like everything else.'
'It doesn't seem like work,' said Rhoda.
'Not to *you*,' said Mrs Oliver, 'because you don't have to do it! It feels very like work to me. Some days I can only keep going by repeating over and over to myself the amount of money I might get for my next serial rights.
'It must be so wonderful to be able to think of things,' said Rhoda.
'I can always think of things,' said Mrs Oliver happily. 'What is so tiring is writing them down. I always think I've finished, and then when I count up I find I've only written thirty thousand words instead of sixty thousand, and so then I have to throw in another murder and get the heroine kidnapped again. It's all very boring.'