The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company and in the UK by Collins Crime Club in 1942.

Agatha Christie, in the foreword of the present book, explained how she always wanted to write a detective novel featuring the cliché of the body in the library, making the library a highly conventional one and the body a highly implausible one. She did just that and wove an engaging mystery with the unparalleled Miss Marple around the classic theme of an exotic blond woman, dead in a drab and highly respectable library in The Body in the Library.

The book features the recurring characters of Colonel and Mrs. Bantry, the former head of the Scotland Yard Sir Henry Clithering, Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack. The Bantrys and Sir Henry had previously been seen in the Miss Marple short story collection, The Thirteen Problems. Colonel Melchett and Inspector Slack appeared in The Murder at the Vicarage. The vicar and his wife from The Murder at the Vicarage make a cameo appearance.

The theme of class difference plays a prominent role in The Body in the Library. For example statements like,

“…-well, to put it bluntly-… wasn’t  a lady. She belonged to the class that wear their best cloths however unsuitable to the occasion…”

(to be fair the character does admit to not wanting to sound snobbish but says that it couldn’t be avoided) are made frequently in the book.

Miss Marple’s experiences with young girls comes in very handy during the course of the investigation. Also her being a woman gives her an advantage over the male detectives as they know nothing about dresses, make up and fashion- all of which play a crucial role in solving the mystery. The police represented by Colonel Melchett, Inspector Slack, Superintendent Harper and also Sir Henry Clithering do provide a lot of information but the solution ultimately hinges on Miss Marple, who presents the link that unravels the whole mystery.

None of the characters really stand out. Everyone seemed uniformly bland to me.

Among all the recurring characters Mrs. Bantry is as usual delightful. The teasing way Sir Henry interacts with Miss Marple is funny.

The identity of the criminal is not really that surprising but the twists that take the story there are surprising. The confusing, twisted clues does leave one’s head reeling a bit. I must confess that although I wasn’t surprised by the identity of the criminal I never saw the fundamental, big point of the mystery till Miss Marple explains it at the very end.

In the end, Christie did manage to put a very interesting spin on the cliché of the body in the library. The plot is very clever and Miss Marple is as good as ever. Very much recommended.

The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit

Lately I have been making up for lost time. Growing up, I have missed out on a lot of children’s classics. The Railway Children is one of them.

The Railway Children written by Edith Nesbit was serialised in The London Magazine in 1905. It was published in book form in 1906.

After their father is sent to prison, siblings Bobbie (Roberta), Peter and Phyllis along with their mother move into a house near a railway station. The railway station soon becomes the focus of the children’s lives as they become friendly with the local people and the mysterious ‘Old Gentleman’ who always rides the 9:15 down train.

I liked how the children in the book seem real. They do have a lot of adventures and are at times insufferably good but they are also impatient and immature a lot of the time. Things like their everyday fights and trivial shenanigans are also given importance in the narrative. Like the exchange between Peter and Bobbie after Peter gets hurt during their fight over a rake or Phyllis’s honest (and often hilarious) thoughts and opinions on things,

‘He called me un-un-ungentlemanly,’ sobbed Phyllis. ‘I didn’t never call him unladylike, not even when he tied my Clorinda to the firewood bundle and burned her at the stake for a martyr.’

Nesbit was accused of plagiarism in 2011. Apparently a lot of the plot points of The Railway Children were very similar to that of The House by the Railway (1896) by Ada J. Graves. These accusations notwithstanding, I would love to read more of Nesbit’s books, particularly The Enchanted Castle.

Even though I might have enjoyed children’s classics such as The Railway Children more if I really were a child, I do still find joy in them. Other than a few parts (like the chapter The Pride of Perks) I have greatly enjoyed reading The Railway Children.

The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone

The Agony and The Ecstasy is the title of the book but for me it has been mostly agony.

The Agony and The Ecstasy by Irving Stone is a biographical novel about Michelangelo, the inimitable Renaissance sculptor, painter, architect and engineer. It was published in 1961.

The book includes a list of Michelangelo’s works & their present whereabouts and a glossary. I enjoyed these extra additions.

The book starts from Michelangelo’s adolescent years and ends with his demise. As Michelangelo lived to be 88 years of age the book ends up being extremely long. More than 700 pages long to be precise.

All that would have been fine if the story and the writing were exceptional. But no such luck!

The story is extremely repetitive. Michelangelo has talent, he gets into trouble with powerful people, he is miserable, he builds/makes/paints something incredible and everything is okay until the next difficulty rears its ugly head. It’s basically the same thing happening again and again.

The writing for the most part is amateurish. Stone would rather tell us about things than show us. The dialogues are stilted, unnatural and sometimes almost comical! For example,

“I am a sculptor.”

“Could you carve me in marble?”

“You’re already carved,” he blurted out. “Flawlessly!”

The book is well-researched and for the most part appears to be based on facts. This wealth of information would not have been wasted if only Irving Stone had been a better writer or if any other hand had written this book. What a waste of a good concept!

I would rather recommend reading the Wikipedia article on Michelangelo. It has all the information without the awful and often cringe inducing dialogues and characters. Enough said!

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Before starting Gilead I had no idea what the book was about. The only reason I even picked this book up is because I needed something to read for Orange January and Gilead happened to be long listed for the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson was published in 2004. It won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The book is named after the fictional town of Gilead, Iowa, where the story is set.

The year is 1957 and Reverend John Ames is slowly dying. Afraid of leaving behind his young son with no memory of who his father was, Reverend Ames begins to write his memoire.

Reverend Ames is a character one is bound to feel sympathetic toward. I felt his fear of leaving behind those he loves, of his son not knowing who his father was but what I felt most keenly was that he had a certain sense of calmness even at the face of death. Sure he is worried about his family but that doesn’t send him into a panic. Of course, that doesn’t mean he is unrealistically ‘saint like’. His dislike of his god son John ‘Jack’ Ames Boughton and his bouts of jealousy make him human.

Through Reverend Ames’s narrative we can see his father, mother and grand father’s lives. Both his father and grandfather were also preachers. His parents come across as gentle people trying hard to eke out a living during the Great Depression. His grandfather on the other hand is a fiery fanatical man, a supporter of John Brown. It is clearly understandable that it is his grandfather who has left the deeper impact on Reverend Ames’s psyche. Although a gentle, forgiving man himself, Reverend Ames keeps reminiscing about his fierce, vengeful grand father’s life and death more than anything else. The description of Reverend Ames’s grandfather’s life is so vivid that I can picture him preaching with a gun in a bloodied shirt.

‘Exciting’ isn’t the word to describe Marilynne Robinson’s writing. Robinson’s prose is very staid and placid for the most part. I felt kind if bored at times. But there are parts which kind of jolts one out of the stillness,

“The truth is, as I stood there in the pulpit, looking down on the three of you, you looked to me like a handsome young family, and my evil old heart rose within me, the old covetise I have mentioned elsewhere came over me, and I felt the way I used to feel when the beauty of other lives was a misery and an offense to me. And I felt as if I were looking back from the grave.”

Gilead obviously has a pretty high quotient of religious content. I had no idea what it was about before I read it so I didn’t know about that. If I had known I probably would not have read it. This is not my kind of book at all.

Though a bit heavy at times Gilead overall a likable read. This may not be for everyone but it is well worth at least one read.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare

Measure for Measure by William Shakespeare was written in 1603 or 1604.

The duke of Vienna leaves the city for a short while and puts Angelo in charge in his absence. Isabella, a novice nun, goes to plead with Angelo for the life of her brother, Claudio, who is accused of ‘fornication’. Angelo, taking advantage of the situation tries to blackmail Isabella into sleeping with him. But the Duke, who is observing everything in disguise, comes to the rescue. With his help the virtuous Isabella saves the life of her brother and keeps her honour intact.

Measure for Measure reads like a comedy but many think of it as a ‘problem’ play. I guess it may be classified as a problem play as it shows the rampant licentiousness and the appalling corruption of the rich.

The central theme of ‘illicit’ sex (even though by law at least both Claudio & Juliet and Angelo & Mariana are considered to be married) was unique for me. I have read many Classic plays where only ‘villains’ engage in ‘illicit’ sex. But in Measure for Measure Claudio & Juliet are not portrayed as immoral people or as villains. In fact a lot of later productions of Measure for Measure toned down these elements by showing everyone to be either secretly married or by showing Angelo as a good person who was only testing Isabella’s virtue.

This was one of my more unsettling reads by Shakespeare. Themes of debauchery, prostitution and corruption are not really fodder for comedy. Angelo’s abuse of power and the apparent helplessness of the common people when faced with this kind of corruption rings really true even today.

Overall, Measure for Measure is a good read but I will not call it light entertainment.

© wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life, 2011-2061. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to wutheringwillow and A Paperback Life with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.