Begun in 1950 and eventually completed in 1965, Agatha Christie recounts her life from early childhood until the end of the memoir’s composition. The book came about from her reluctance to let others tell her story, as she explained to her agent Edmund Cork of Hughes Massie. Aware that the prospect was now inevitable, Agatha Christie took it upon herself to have the first word, although insisted that the book should not be published until after her death.After Agatha Christie passed away in 1976, the manuscript was edited by her long-standing publishers Collins and her only daughter, Rosalind Hicks and her husband Anthony. As a result the narrative ends in 1966, and does not include some of Christie’s later achievements such as her DBE in 1971 or the success of the 1974 film of Murder on the Orient Express.While there have been films inspired by specific events in Christie’s life, such as Agatha (1979) and the Doctor Who episode The Unicorn and the Wasp (2008), none of these are true adaptations of her autobiography.
My favorite part about memoirs is learning about both the person writing the memoir and about the years they spent living the stuff they’re writing about. For instance, Agatha Christie’s autobiography covers about sixty years, from when she was born in the late Victorian period to somewhere in the 1960s. That’s a huge range of time, with tons of interesting things going on– not least her writing her books that I so enjoy today.
Probably the best section in her autobiography is her childhood. For all that it’s a relatively short amount of time it feels like she spent a lot of effort into writing about it, to make it interesting and enjoyable to read. A lot of childhood stuff is boring when compared to what a person does in their adult life1, but AC’s childhood was seriously fascinating. For instance: she didn’t go to school or even have many tutors until she was in her teens, as her mother was under the impression that educating children at a very young age stunted their intellectual growth. So AC spent a lot of her time playing games, reading books (some of which influenced her own writing later on, I think), and generally having an amazing childhood. It makes me wonder how she would have turned out if she HAD gone to school as a young child. Would she still have been as imaginative as she was when she was older?
I suppose what most people are interested in in a writer’s memoir is their memories about how they started to write– and possibly also HOW they write their books. With AC it’s actually kind of funny– she didn’t do a whole heap of writing when she was younger, except for some poetry I think, and she only started writing mysteries because her sister dared her to do it. Luckily she found her niche, because that first book set her off onto a lifetime of writing books! She doesn’t go into too much detail of her process of writing those books, though, so I guess if you want a step-by-step “how Agatha Christie came up with her ideas” you’d be disappointed.2
For all that I enjoyed reading about her childhood, her adult life was pretty interesting, as well! Between her first and second marriages AC traveled quite a bit. For example, she took the Orient Express(!) to the Middle East, by herself, without any help! And this was before there were guidebooks and whatnot! She didn’t spend a whole lot of time writing about her travels, but they were fun to read about nonetheless.
Occasionally AC would interject her opinions about something, and it was kind of amusing in that “oh aren’t old people funny” sort of way. Unfortunately she was one of those people who thought that how they did things “back in the day” was superior to what’s going on in modern times, and that sort of thing is very tiring to read about. Don’t you think? But it did give a greater insight into AC’s personality. Sometimes I felt as though AC was holding some parts of herself back– and she was, actually. She never wrote about the time she went missing for a few days, for instance; there’s not even one mention of it. I understand not wanting to talk about some things, I suppose, but not even a hint of that whole escapade? Kinda weird.
On the whole, though, I had a fabulous time reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography. She’s a very entertaining writer, whether it’s mysteries or memoirs, and I think any Agatha Christie fan would enjoy reading this book, too.
Read: ?-October 24, 2011