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Last week, I watched two documentaries about Agatha Christie, which inspired today’s book review. Tina reviewed The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy, a Scottish author writing about English characters in Morocco.
Book: Nemesis by Agatha Christie
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Publication date: 2004 (Originally, 1971)
Source: ebook from the library
Summary: I knew that I was going to enjoy Nemesis when I got to this sentence:
Dear Miss Jane Marple,
Obeying instructions given us by the late Mr. Rafiel, we send you particulars of our Tour No. 37 of the Famous Houses and Gardens of Great Britain.
A romp with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple through the Famous Houses and Gardens of Great Britain? Sign me up! Of course, if you’re reading Agatha Christie, you can’t really count on things going as planned.
I think of the Miss Marple stories as being the body-in-the-library sort of mystery. Nemesis is different. Instead of an unlikely murder in an unlikely place, Miss Marple is presented a puzzle by the solicitors of a recently deceased former acquaintance, Mr. Rafiel. She’s given so few details that it’s impossible to even know what the problem is about, much less its solution, but Miss Marple is game. She totters off on a coach tour and waits until things start to make themselves clearer.
Thoughts: Nemesis is possibly my first Agatha Christie novel. I remember reading a collection of Miss Marple stories in my teens or twenties and not being that impressed. Although, I now realize that I was never going to be much of a reader of short stories, so I hadn’t really given Christie a fair shot until I read a novel.
I’ve enjoyed more than one production of The Mousetrap and various television adaptations of Agatha Christie stories, especially David Suchet as Poirot. So there was every reason to believe that I would enjoy the novel and I did!
What I love about books versus adaptations is getting to see the inner thoughts of the characters. It’s very fun to be inside Miss Marple’s head when she decides to appear more scatter-brained or fussy than she really is. The reader gets to enjoy the deliciousness of watching other characters underestimate Miss Marple, exactly as she intends for them to do.
Reading Nemesis, and I suppose other Miss Marple novels, requires getting used to the way the British use the word, ‘pussy.’ Miss Marple describes herself with that term, along with other elderly women.
I almost quit the book entirely when I got to a sentence with an egregious bit of rape culture: “Girls, you must remember, are far more ready to be raped nowadays than they used to be.” Sheesh. I reminded myself that the reason that I picked up this book was because 2021 is the 50th anniversary of its publication.
One function of reading an old novel is to remind ourselves how our culture developed. In my lifetime, a woman could write that dialogue for a man to say and readers took it as a statement of current reality. When I was growing up, that sort of thinking surrounded me and made its way into my brain, too. Just to make it clear to my mind and yours, women and girls are never “ready to be raped.” It wasn’t true in 1971 and it isn’t true now. Here’s a concrete example to point to when people want to deny that rape culture exists.
Appeal: If, like me, you’ve never been much of an Agatha Christie reader, this is an odd choice for a first novel, but it worked for me. I chose it because of the 50th anniversary, but I enjoyed the unexpected complication of the plot, the varied cast of characters that populated the novel, and the settings.
For the second week in a row, I’m bringing Agatha Christie to the RIP XVI party. Nemesis was far from a terrifying book although there are rather disturbing examples of human motivation displayed in it. Perhaps, I won’t choose to think too much about that.