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Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

I've had Agatha Christie's autobiography sitting on my TBR pile for several years now. When I bought it I hadn't read many of her books other than the few I'd read as a teenager; now I've read a few more I thought it was time to read her memoirs.




Born Agatha Miller in 1890, Agatha Christie had what can only be termed a charmed childhood. The family weren't rich but they were comfortably upper-middle-class, at least until her father died when the discovery was made that a company in the US had been badly managed and they were in financial difficulties. Up till then Agatha's childhood was idyllic. She had an older brother and sister but was very much the much-loved baby sister and daughter. She goes into great detail about her nanny, 'Nursie', who wouldn't admit to her age, various relatives and their eccentricities, friends she had as a child, places she went and so on. In fact she recalls her childhood with great clarity and takes about half of a 530 page book to do so. Most of it was spent in a house called Ashfield, near the seafront in Torquay in Devon and Agatha was much attached to this beautiful house throughout her life. Even when the family were in straightened circumstances she persuaded her mother not to sell it, when it would have been better to do so because of the cost of upkeep.

She married Archie Christie in her mid-twenties at the start of World War One, and then worked as a nurse and a dispenser during the war. Her sister bet her she couldn't write a crime novel so she set about doing so and produced The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It took several years to get it published and she followed it with more books, but slowly. She found it hard to think of herself as an actual author. Her marriage failed just after her mother died and it was heart-breaking to read her soul-searching. If she had acted differently could she have kept her husband? Meanwhie, as a reader you're thinking what a selfish rotter Archie was... Happily, a couple of years later, she met Max Mallowan, an archaeologist, and a whole new life began. She went off to Syria with him and helped with digs, mainly cleaning whatever was dug up. It was plain she adored doing this and she writes about it at great length in the books, and also in Come, Tell Me How You Live which I highly recommend.

Book followed book and she talks a little about some of them... how they came to be written, her inspiration, her favorite ones, snippets of insight... for instance she felt she'd made Hercule Poirot far too old in his first book and by the time of the last book he would've been over a hundred! She couldn't remember how she's come to invent Miss Marple but thinks she may have been a small character in another book, under another name. One book, The Mystery of the Blue Train she loathes as she forced herself to write it after the death of her mother and the divorce. In the end I think she did consider herself a real author but it took a while and she really doesn't sing her own praises in this autobiography. This is in no way a 'Look at me, I'm wonderful' sort of a book. She is self-deprecating and modest and I particularly liked the very strong vein of wry humour running right through the book.

I very much felt, while I was reading this autobiography, that Agatha Christie was sitting in a chair chatting to me, because the book almost takes the form of a conversation. Yes, it is written more or less chronologically but all through she goes off on various tangents, giving an opinion on this or that, recalling an amusing anecdote, considering historical events such as the two world wars and so on. She says that she wrote only about certain things that she enjoyed or that stuck in her mind. Certainly things have been ommitted but then that's her perogative being a writer writing about her own life. Curious, I've ordered a biography of her by Janet Morgan so as to gain another perspective. But one thing the book has done is made me want to read a lot more of her work and I will do that thing over the course of the next few years.

It's pretty obvious how much I loved this book. I haven't read heaps of autobiographies or biographies, I'll be honest. But I 'can' honestly say that this is the best I've ever read. Agatha Christie's life was extremely interesting both from a personal and historical point of view. I would recommend this to 'anyone' regardless of whether you like her books or not as it's really not about her writing... it's about a unique and fascinating woman and the times she lived through. Wonderful, absolutely wonderful.

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography is my book 11 for Bev's 2015 Mount TBR challenge.

Comments

Have you ever seen the 1979 film Agatha starring Vanessa Redgrave, Dustin Hoffman, Timothy Dalton and Helen Morse? It's an extremely unlikely story that tries to account for her brief disappearance in 1926, when her first marriage went sour, but I loved it for all of its illogicality and strangeness.

The description of her autobiography brings that movie to mind. She was a fascinating person, and although her own description of her life is likely to be revealing in some ways, I'll bet it's also full of unrevealed, tantalizing mysteries that will never be solved. I think I'd enjoy it too.
Well, no... I didn't realise there was such a film, tbh. I think I'll have to investiagte that... thanks for tip-off.

I'll bet it's also full of unrevealed, tantalizing mysteries that will never be solved.

Oh yes indeed. Which is one of the reasons I felt the urge to get a biography of her to find out what she ommitted and also to hear what other people thought of her. I'm really fascinated! I definitely think her autobiography is one to be read in conjunction with others... a biography and some of her mysteeries perhaps, which I plan to do now.
It would be nice if Live Journal had a "like" button. I don't have anything to add, but I do like your post. :)
Awww, thank you. That really means a lot. :-)
This sounds wonderful... I remember reading all (well, many if not all!) her books with great passion when I was at school, but I've not gone back and re-read any in later years, and I really should. I'll keep my eye out for her autobiography now though, too!
'Wonderful' is spot on. As I just said to Guinn, it's definitely a book to be read in conjunction with others. Like a project to discover as much as you can about an author you like. But of course you need various perspectives, not just one. Keep an eye out... or you're welcome to borrow it from me.
Autobiographies can be tricky, can't they? A writer isn't always successful in keeping a certain distance, while at the same time connecting their life to the reader. It very much sounds as if Ms Christie managed it.
She did manage it. And she made it so interesting to read, her non-fiction writing style is quite different to her fiction. Apart from the humour which is present in both. And some autobiographies - particularly actors I notice - are just a list of things they've appeared in and you have to be really into the actor to keep your interest.
But I 'can' honestly say that this is the best I've ever read.

Well this is high praise indeed! I fancy something different and must look out for this one. Thanks very much for the rec.
It deserves high praise, I haven't been that impressed with an autobiography in a very long time. I imagine your library might have it or the county catalogue.
My mother LOVED Agatha Christie's books and had every one of them on a bookshelf on my bedroom, which she took over as her library when I went off to college. Somewhere around my third year, I started reading them when I was home on vacation and became quite a fan myself. Not that you've asked for a recommendation, but do read The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It's quite wonderful, and was a real game-changer when published.
You know, I've always - apart from in my teens - looked down on AC's writing a bit as being a bit simplistic... not to mention I was scornful of people who liked whodunits. How snobby of me. I now like her books very much and was thrilled with this autobiography. So much so that I got a biography about her to gain another perspective. She's so interesting when she writes about her life and she lived through such interesting times.

I've just read her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Roger Ackroyd will be my next AC when I get to it. Others have recced that one too... and The Man in the Brown Suit. Plenty to get my teeth into.