Friday, 26 July 2013

Agathon #13: The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)

Tansy and I started out with a challenge to read every book written by Agatha Christie, in order of publication – we’re blogging as we go along. We spoil all the things!
The Murder at the VicarageKATHRYN:
So, first, I just need to get it off my chest that one of my first shocks in this book is that Lettice Protheroe’s name is Lettice, and not Lettuce. I have read and seen this book several times before and to me she is always *Lettuce*. Having read the book before also meant that the murderer was not a surprise, nor were any of the other mysteries that were uncovered during the story. And this meant I could really focus on how Miss Marple is portrayed in her first full length book*. Miss Marple is certainly not the star of ‘The Murder at the Vicarage’, which is narrated, perhaps appropriately, by the Vicar (Mr Clements). She is introduced of one of several gossipy old ladies at a morning tea held by the Vicar’s wife, the inappropriate Griselda, and both the Vicar and Griselda have relatively low opinions of these ‘old cats’, as they are referred to often. Actually I suspect that Christie might have been writing this book so that Miss Marple herself was a surprise - it only becomes apparent that Miss Marple’s ‘gossip’ has rather more substance than Mrs Price Ridley’s or Miss Hartnell’s as the story develops. I wonder if anyone realised how iconic she would become.

The narration by the Vicar is quite reminiscent to that of Hastings narration for Poirot - or even of Dr. James Sheppard (the murderer) in ‘The Murder of Roger Ackeroyd’, and it seems to be a common technique for Christie to use in her proper ‘whodunnits’ (as compared to the slightly whacky spy stuff we have also seen to-date). I guess it’s a good technique because the narrator can be led on a few wild goose chases and suitably surprised when the murderer is revealed. The narrator can also be unreliable - quite spectacularly so in the case of Dr Sheppard - and even I think a little bit in the case of the Vicar, who I think doesn’t like to admit just how much he loves his inappropriate wife.

Miss Marple doesn’t have a constant companion, so I will be looking with interest to see how the narration is undertaken in future Marple books (because for the life of me I cannot remember!!) I was surprised that Miss Marple’s nephew, the writer Raymond West, was present in this, her first book. I had imagined he was an addition of later stories, and he was a good deal more fashionable and callow than I remember him, though again perhaps that again is coloured by the Vicar’s narration (and potential jealousy of the attraction of Griselda to Raymond!)

And just a word on the murderer(s). Is it my imagination, but have a number of Christie’s murderers to-date been rather charming men who turn out to be far more ruthless than first seems? Perhaps I should start a tally. I also wonder how scandalous it was that Lawrence Redding and Mrs Protheroe were having an extramarital affair in 1930. It’s not so shocking now, but there are a number of hints that several ladies could have been gallivanting around with Lawrence, which surely was a bit risque?

All in all, I really enjoyed this reread of ‘The Murder at the Vicarage’. It’s full of excellent misdirection, character studies and village gossip, which is really what I think of when I think of a Christie whodunnit.

*Apparently Miss Marple’s first appearance was in a short story ‘The Tuesday Night Club’, written in 1926. However the collection it was published in - ‘The Thirteen Problems’ - was not published until 1932, so we have a few books to go until we get to it...

I really enjoyed this! I hadn’t read it before so I was quite surprised at how unappealing Miss Marple was early on - she seemed really gossipy and horrible and gradually became more and more likeable as the story went on. By the end she felt more like the Miss Marple I know from later books - gentler and more knowing and subtle. Possibly this is a case of the character simply growing as the author wrote her, but I like to think it’s because, as you say, the vicar’s perspective also shifts throughout the novel.

The story felt so similar to Roger Ackroyd, largely because of the way the narrator was set up, that I was almost convinced that our lovely vicar had in fact done the murder himself, except that I was fairly sure if she had pulled that trick again I would have heard about it. The Len-Griselda relationship was fascinating, and itself something of a mystery to be unravelled. I was very happy that there was nothing at all to be suspicious about either of them, as Griselda in particular was such a funny character. How terribly modern of her to commit to being an appalling housewife, and to cleave to her bad maid in order to keep her!

Len reluctantly convincing Mary to stay was one of my favourite scenes in the book, but it was full of all kinds of domestic gems.

The plot of this one is fascinating too - it’s another tricky one, though not as famous I guess as ‘they all did it’ or ‘the narrator did it’ to be talked about more? But I like that once again Christie is providing meta commentary on the genre of the murder mystery, in this case noting that realistically, the most obvious suspect is usually the murderer. And of course this has the whole ‘if a murderer was clever they would act suspiciously because acting innocent is a dead giveaway’ trick to it, which is nicely done.

Raymond was quite appalling! I’ve never seen him on screen before, only remember Miss Marple talking about him, so I was quite amused by what a vulgar intellectual snob he seemed to be. Again, though, the vicar’s perspective colours everything.

All in all, this is a lovely launch for Miss Marple and I like how much we get to see her working out how exactly a little old lady should go about being a detective, from first principles. Can you believe it was another twelve years before she appeared in another novel? Thank goodness for short stories!

Coming up:
1931: The Sittaford Mystery (also Murder at Hazelmoor ), Emily Trefusis, Inspector Narracott
1932: Peril at End House, Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp
1932: The Thirteen Problems, Miss Marple Shorts
1933: Lord Edgware Dies (also Thirteen at Dinner ), Hercule Poirot, Arthur Hastings, Chief Inspector Japp

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

What Baby Read (2013)

  1. The Very Hungy Caterpillar, Eric CArle (from Mummy, purchased in NYC, caterpillar is a boy)
  2. The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Beatrix Potter (from Grandma, baby's first story)
  3. The Little Read Hen, Retold by Vera Southgate (from A, good classic)
  4. That's Not My Angel, Fiona Watt (from E, touchy book)
  5. Where is Baby?, Sally Rippin (from Better Beginnings, short, probably better with interaction)
  6. Baby Boo, Katie Rowbottom (from C, great baby faces)
  7. Tickle time!, Sandra Boynton (library, a bit monotonous)
  8. Goodnight moon, Margaret Wise Brown (library, a bit weird)
  9. Busy buddies, Cece Bell (library, unmemorable)
  10. Squeak, squeak!, Beth Harwood (library, gimmicky - not useful at this time)
  11. The biggest thing in the world , Kenneth C. Steven (library, a bit mushy, bear is a boy)
  12. Hop on Pop Dr. Seuss (library, seustastic! would reborrow)
  13. Where is Lighty Faust the lion? Anna Hymas (library, couldn't get the point of this one)
  14. Books for babies, Annemarie Florian (library, uninspiring)
  15. Possum magic numbers, Mem Fox (library, very pretty! good counting book)
  16. Wow! said the owl : a book about colours! Tim Hopgood (library, great book! would reborrow, owl is a girl)
  17. Buster's zoo, Rod Campbell (library, not ready for touch books yet)
  18. Dancing feet! Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown (library, Publisher's Weekly Starred Review! And a good book!)
  19. What is black and white? Petr Horacek (library, short and possibly existential)
  20. Moomin's little book of opposites, apparently not Tove Jansson (library, Moomins! nice book to read)
  21. Don't lose Pigley, Wibbly Pig! Mick Inkpen (library, genuinely exciting! almost :-)
  22. Farmyard Beat, Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown (library, possibly better than Dancing Feet! Farmer Sue.)
  23. A Squash and a Squeeze, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (library, relatively long)
  24. Wibbly Pig likes pictures, Mick Inkpen (library, less story than 'Don't lose Piggely...' but still a good book)
  25. Where is the Green Sheep?, Mem Fox and Judy Horacek (library, a very long of a board book!; it will be good when baby is a bit older)
  26. Play Baby Play, Marilyn Janovitz (library, good rhyming)
  27. Toddle Waddle, Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt (library, quite clever)
  28. Find the Duck, Stephen Cartwright (library, not quite old enough for this book, why is the duck a boy?)
  29. My Family, Brimax Publishing (library, good photos and activity flaps, very heteronormative family)
  30. Animals should definitely not wear clothing, Judi Barrett and Ron Barrett (library, hilarious, definitely would reborrow. Update: And have reborrowed.)
  31. Margot and Mo... and numbers, Nina Govan (library, very pretty counting book, but quite short)
  32. 123 Zoo, Puck (library, great bold colours but no words, plus conversation starters that I never read... might be better when she's older)
  33. Wiggle, Taro Gomi (library, OMFG best book ever - I would BUY this book! Update: first book to be reborrowed from library)
  34. Jane Eyre: A Counting Primer, Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver (library, very pretty book but only hints at the story)
  35. Buster's Farm, Rod Campbell (library, touch and feel book and she is beginning to get into that (@ 6mo))
  36. baby, boo!, Beth Harwood (library, not as good as the one we own, lovely non-gendered faces though)
  37. Little Ted's Big Adventure, ABC For Kids (library, beautiful pictures. reading the back, perhaps this is actually a song?)
  38. Whose Baby?, Fiona Munro and Jo Garden (library, a little book with GIANT flaps - which sounds kind of wrong. Story ok, but the flaps are its strongest point. Some odd baby choices but i guess they needed variety)
  39. That's not my dinosaur, Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (library, another touch and feel book. Textures are a little advanced but baby is defininely getting the idea)
  40. Up Close, Gay Wegerif (library, fairly abstract artwork - attractive but probably a bit advanced)
  41. 10 in the bed, david ellwand (library, very large board book, cute teddy pictures)
  42. Ollie's Song, Rob Lewis (bookcrossing, a story book rather than a board book. good bed time reading. ollie is a boy)
  43. Pride and Prejudice: A counting primer, Jennifer Adams, Alison Oliver (Mummy bought, very pretty but let's not kid ourselves that this was bought for the baby...)
  44. That's not my meercat, Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (Mummy bought, most successful touch and feel book yet - fur is very good texture right now (@7mo) nicely non gendered)
  45. That's not my tractor, Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (library, a bit advanced but a great mix of non-furry textures. shiny/sparkly most successful for now)
  46. baby's best friend, Rachael Hale (library, good and partly non-gendered baby faces, but a bit overloaded on the cute puppy front. too saccharine for mummy)
  47. My Dad is the Best Playground, Luciana Navarro POwell (library, nice sentiment but far too saccharine for mummy)
  48. Bunnies by the Bay: Shapes, Five Mile Press (library, very pretty, faurly subtle touch and feel - might be more appropriate when a bit older - nearly at 8 mo now...)
  49. That's not my tractor, Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (library, another touch and feel book. Most successful non-furry touch and feel to-date - sparkly is of interest in particular)
  50. Baby's Treasure Hunt, Roger Priddy (from C, lovely pictures still a bti young to pick out the treasures (8 mo))
  51. That's not my santa, Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (library, another touch and feel book.)
  52. Pop-up Peekaboo!, Dawn Sirett et al. (library, was more interested in the pop-ups than I expected.)
  53. Five Little Ducks, graphics by Mike Jolley and Emma Dodd (library, not super interesting, but nice to sing along too. Doesn't shy away from the traumatic account of Mother Duck losing ALL her children!)
  54. Peekaboo!, Taro Gomi (for Xmas, lovely pictures but haven't tried the mask aspect)
  55. Alice in Wonderland: A colour primer, Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver (for Xmas, such a pretty pretty book. better than P&P at this time (9 mo) - gasp!)
  56. Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles: A sounds primer, Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver (for Xmas, another very pretty book. sounds also very appropriate for this age(9 mo))
  57. That's not my bunny.., Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (from J and S, more great touch and feel, though shiny eyes are a bit unsettling!!)
  58. That's not my elephant.., Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells (from J and S, touch and feel with a nice variety of textures)
  59. Peekafun Chunky Baby Book, Dawn Sirett (from S and W, lots of lovely pages to turn but sad there are 4 male characters ans only 2 female. why not 50/50?)