Thursday, 3 October 2013

Book Review: an unmentionable title

Agatha Christie and Casual Racism

When staying on Dartmoor I was going to read The Hound of the Baskervilles. I must confess this was partly an easy option, having read and re-read the story since childhood. However, due to an accident with my iPad, I lost the iBooks version (should have used kindle) and so could not read it when on the moor. Shame. We spend an afternoon wandering near Grimspound as the mist came down, very atmospheric and a black dog (a common Devon myth) would have only added to the ambience. 

But we also went to Burgh Island. An odd little place, it's an isthmus, so you can walk to it at low tide and at high tide you can take a peculiar tractor that travels across the sand as the waves rock it to and fro. 

Agatha Christie stayed on the Island and set one of her novels there. Unfortunately, the novel has a terrible title, so I'm not going to write it here, but it's been renamed as 'And Then There Were None.'

The story starts with ten people being invited to an island and then, one by one, they are all murdered, very mysteriously.

It's not one of her best works but it is entertaining enough for a wet day. But it is also very racist. Against Africans. Against Jews. Against Natives (who don't, apparently, care as much for death as white folk). While these are probably the attitude of Christie's characters and not necessarily those of Christie herself, they are still shocking to read. It was interesting to see how much attitudes have changed, and how it is now no longer acceptable to make sweeping judgements of a sex or a race, even if its your characters with the prejudice, not the author.

That being said, the book is ok, not brilliant. Ten characters is just too many. And they do not have diverse enough voices. So I wouldn't recommend it - and I don't envy the other guests on Burgh Island while Christie wrote it. What would it be like, to inhabit the same hotel as a crime writer?

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