Notes & Counter Notes: Writings on the Theatre, Eugene Ionesco (translator Donald Watson)
A collection not only of Ionesco's own writings, but which also includes a famous (in its day) exchange of letters and articles between Ionesco and his critics. This is a highlight of the book and a valuable piece of commentary on Ionesco's theatre. It's nice to read it in the original English - in the book's original French, this section had to be translated... Touch of irony there.
This is another book that replaces the French version on my shelves. The funny thing is, there was one specific Ionesco quote that I remembered from this book, concerning his fascination with language: "Ils se parlent. Ils se comprennent. C'est ca qui m'etonnait." ("People talk to each other - they understand each other. It's that which astonished me.") But damned if I can find it anywhere in here. I can't even find it on Google now. Has the memory cheated?
There then followed a bout of Poirot-mania. The Lovely Jo and I have progressed from watching ITV3's patchy Poirot repeats to renting and buying the DVDs (and renting other "1930s detective" DVDs, of which more may follow), to re-reading the books.
There's a catch here in that at the start of the month we didn't own any of the books - readers may recall that I once went through a Christie phase, but all the books went down to the second-hand shop years ago for reasons of space. The books that both of us have read this month and are likely to read over the next few months as well are therefore a mix of library copies, friends' copies, and a few select titles that I decided I would actually like to own after all.
(I've discovered a very attractive edition of Christie's novels that was apparently sold as a partwork about five years ago, several hundred copies of which have since ended up in second-hand bookshops. However, as seems to be the way with partworks, the later issues had smaller runs and it doesn't look as though anybody who stuck it out as far as Curtain is prepared to sell their copy second-hand. I'm keeping my eye on Abebooks, but in the meantime a cheap paperback edition is holding its place on the shelf.)
They're pretty good reading - light, entertaining, only a couple of hundred pages long. They're like book candy. You can pop a couple in in a week without difficulty.
Curtain: Poirot's Last Case, Agatha Christie
This one's a keeper. I could go on about it all day - the murderer's unusual method, the startling ending (so who's really won - Poirot? the murderer? both?), the whole dramatic scope of it (it's really Poirot vs the very idea of murder itself, as much as it's Poirot vs the murderer).
The only problem with it is that it's very definitely set in the 1940s (when it was written and then locked away, just in case Christie didn't survive WW2 - it seems to be set just after WW2, although at the time this must just have been wishful thinking on Christie's part), which doesn't fit too well with Poirot's continued career during the '50s, '60s and '70s. Apparently this is a well-known problem within Christie fandom, which most fans prefer to address by fudging the dates in this one book and simply pretending that he wasn't over 100 years old when he died. Personally I prefer ITV's solution of setting the entire rest of the series in an endlessly repeating 1936.
The Life and Times of Hercule Poirot, Anne Hart
Looked like it might be an interesting overview of the Poirot stories, but it doesn't go far enough for my liking. It's descriptive, but not interpretative (it doesn't even try to tackle the Poirot age problem). It does, however, give a good analysis of Poirot's character, and it's very light reading. Also manages to avoid spoiling the endings of the books, for the most part.
Murder in the Mews, Agatha Christie
Four novellas - or at least, three novellas and a moderately long short story. The short story is fairly negligible, but the other three are pretty good.
Mrs McGinty's Dead, Agatha Christie
Better than I'd remembered. It's got quite a lively sense of humour, which contrasts with ITV's idea that their more recent adaptations should be darker to reflect the allegedly more serious tone of the later books. Also gives a very good picture of small town life in the 1950s, and the everyday characters are a profound contrast with the upper class set of Poirot's '30s adventures.
The Clocks, Agatha Christie
First time of reading this one. A little bit turgid, and Poirot doesn't even show up until halfway through. When he does show up, he's on a dare to solve the case without leaving his flat, so in effect this is Christie trying to please the readers by including Poirot while pleasing herself by sidelining him. Poirot also plucks the final revelations out of the air rather more than he usually does, which makes for unsatisfying reading.
What is interesting is the way that this book comes across as a spy thriller (but thankfully not in the line of Christie's other, slightly dodgy spy thrillers) for most of its length. It almost feels like an attempt to spoof James Bond, who at the time of publication (1963) would have been stealing the crime-lovin' public's attention away from Christie's old-fashioned detectives. The Colonel Beck material is brilliant, though. I'd love to see him turn up in a Jasper Fforde novel. He's so obviously a Jurisfiction agent working undercover.
Three Act Tragedy, Agatha Christie
A middling novel. For no particular reason it features Mr Satterthwaite, crime fiction's greatest undiagnosed split-personality sufferer, although he takes a back seat to Poirot and doesn't actually solve anything here. Bizarrely Christie tells you right up front exactly whodunnit, and then trusts you to forget she said anything. Hey ho. Even if she hadn't, it'd be pretty easy to guess it outright.
The Murder on the Links, Agatha Christie
The second ever Poirot novel, and the one in which she marries off Captain Hastings. The prose is still at an early stage of development - characters and the narrator repeat entire phrases within paragraphs of each other in a way that's somewhat awkward for the reader. There's also a certain amount of melodramatic shennanigans between Hastings, the future Mrs Hastings and Poirot that doesn't sit too well with me. I'm inclined to think that the ITV scriptwriter made the right changes with this one. Can't really see the love interest's daring denouement acrobatics working in any way.
Murder in Mesopotamia, Agatha Christie
Halfway through this one. First time of reading, but I know how it ends thanks to the TV adaptation. So far the prose is good and the backstory is only a little bit improbable (it'll get more so by the end...). Subject to a final opinion after finishing, I'd place this in the second tier of Christies.
Edit: Yes, not quite the top ten but a high second-ranker.