“Mrs Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a First at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing-suit, but as is the blessed habit of dreams this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life…
“Mrs Bantry was enjoying her dream a good deal. She usually did enjoy those early-morning dreams that were terminated by the arrival of early-morning tea. Somewhere in her inner consciousness was an awareness of the usual early-morning noises of the household. The rattle of the curtain-rings on the stairs as the housemaid drew them, the noises of the second housemaid’s dustpan and brush in the passage outside. In the distance the heavy noise of the front-door bolt being drawn back.
“Another day was beginning. In the meantime she must extract as much pleasure as possible from the flower show – for already its dream-like quality was becoming apparent…” (The Body in the Library)
So much like the early mornings in Jelly Towers, give or take the odd housemaid.
Agatha Christie was my gateway drug into adult fiction, between Enid Blyton to Eric Blair. Ma had a shelf of them, just asking to be gulped down – it would have been rude to refuse.
In adulthood, though, my Christies have largely come through adaptations: John Moffat on the wireless, David Suchet and the superlative Joan Hickson on the box. Many of these are very enjoyable, and you get Christie’s plots – more or less – and her characters – more or less – but not, of course, her narration. Now, I’ve returned to the books themselves and, this time through, I’ve more appreciation of her skill as a writer.
Take the beginning of The Body in the Library: the short opener drawing us straight in, the sentences become longer and more complex as Mrs Bantry awakens, the rhythm of the repeated phrase ‘early-morning’ pulling us along. As for Mrs Bantry, there’s no actual description of her but don’t we feel we know her by the fact that her dream scenario is to be given a prize for her sweet peas by the vicar? Lovely stuff.
My return to the Christie-verse has come to pass because of the podcast All About Agatha. This is the work of Catherine Broback and Kemper Donovan, two young Californians who, since September 2016, have been reading, discussing and rating Christie’s work in order of publication. The podcast comes out weekly: they tackle a novel a month and in between some of her short stories. I find Catherine and Kemper good company; they are warm and witty and I enjoy their discussions. So I’ve set myself the challenge of catching them up before they get to Christie’s final novel. As at today, they have only eight more novels to go (Christie wrote sixty-six) whereas I’ve just started reading her thirtieth.
Which is part of the reason, dear Reader, why my blogs over the last couple of months have been as rare as hen’s teeth. Well, that and the fact that I’ve been devoting so much time to cultivating my sweet peas. I’m planning on giving Mrs Bantry a run for her money at St Mary Mead’s Flower and Produce Show. I reckon I’m in with a chance.