It took me eight years to read this book. I don’t remember what made me buy it, or where from, or why, but I do know that I’ve transported it across several house moves and considered getting rid of it every single time. I added it to my TBR on 20 March 2010 and never looked back. It just looked so heavy, and dry, and dense.
Turns out, I should not be listened to (apart from my stellar reviews, obviously). I adored this book, every single part of it.
Summary: In this book, Agatha Christie, tells her own story — a tale just as fascinating and readable as her world-famous mysteries.
Star rating: * * * * *
Wow, what a helpful blurb that was.
Agatha Christie wrote this autobiography in 1965, when she was 75 years old, but it wasn’t published until 1977, a year after her death at 85 years old.
I love this woman. I’ve always liked her work, as I’ve read (probably) most of her books by this point, but now I like her a lot as a person. She comes across as stubborn but kind-hearted. Very shy but loyal. You can tell she wrote it for herself, and not because her publishers wanted her to. It’s mostly chronological, but not quite. She does flit around a little, but in a natural, unforced way. If something pops up, she’ll talk about it there and then, instead of waiting for the correct time period 100 pages later. She never bothers to tell you what year it was or how old she was, but I almost like that. It feels so unforced. Towards the end she says, ‘I’m not going to bother tidying this book up too much. I’m too old for that shit.’ I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but that is almost definitely what she’s saying.
It takes a good two thirds of the book before she even picks up a pen, and about 3/4 before she properly starts with Poirot. This isn’t a book about her writing, not really, although of course it features (eventually). It’s mostly about her early life, and then later on she discusses her family life behind the scenes of the writing. Even then, the book stops shortly after the Second World War, when her life has settled down and ‘fame’ has just begun. She never even mentions being made a Dame, and only discusses meeting the Queen in passing. Don’t let that put you off though, it’s riveting.
“How big is he?”
Grannie considered, stopped carving, and measured off a distance on the carving knife.
“Like that,” she said. She spoke with the absolute certainty of one who knew. It seemed to me rather small. All the same, the announcement made such an impression on me that I am sure if I were being asked an associative question by a psychiatrist and he gave me the key-word ‘baby,’ I would immediately respond with ‘carving knife.’ I wonder what kind of Freudian complex he would put that answer down to.
A good quarter of the book is about her childhood. I usually hate that part in memoirs as I generally see it as completely irrelevant to whatever the subject is famous for, but here, I just loved it. Nothing about this book is boring. Honestly, every single part of this is fascinating. She worked in a hospital dispensary in both World Wars (hence the knowledge of poisons) and refused to leave her London bed during the air raids.
She writes so well – it doesn’t read like one of the detective novels at all. It’s denser, but still chatty. She’s very dry and very sarcastic at times, but usually not hardheartedly. I just feel I would have liked this woman. I like how she’s writing from the mid-sixties and she muses on how things have changed, like bikinis, airplanes, technology, etc.
It struck me how honest she was. Mistakes that she’s made and things that she’d do differently now. The only thing she doesn’t mention is the 1926 disappearance, when she vanished and turned up in Harrogate six days later.1 She talks about how her then husband couldn’t deal with the fact she was sad about her mother’s death because ‘I really can’t bear it when people are sad, you know that’, and her impending breadown after doing all the clearing out work herself, during which he promptly announced he wanted a divorce as he’d found someone else. Dick. I really dislike him. But then there’s no mention of the disappearance and we jump forward to February the following year. I’m not sure what the big mystery is anyway. She clearly just stomped off for a bit to sulk. Can’t say I blame her.
Why not make my detective a Belgian? I thought. There were all types of refugees. How about a refugee police officer? A retired police officer. Not too young a one. What a mistake I made there. The result is that my fictional detective must really be well over a hundred by now.
There are honestly too many quotes in this book for me to include all the ones I really liked, so I stuck with two. For more, go read the damn thing. But seriously, do read it.
I’m glad she was happy at the end of her life though. She writes this book with the full understanding that she is a famous author. She loves her second husband dearly, she contributed to archaelogical discoveries, she had a close knit family she adored and her days of scrimping for pennies were over. She notes that she is not as fit and able as she used to be, but is grateful that her faculties are still mostly intact. She seemed like a good person and I’m glad that she was happy.
What did shock me was that I had no idea that Mary Westmacott was her, Agatha Christie. It was her pen name for her non-detective stories. I don’t know, I just feel like I should have known that already! I’ve just gone out of my way to find one of the original editions on eBay, one that doesn’t have ‘Agatha Christie’ emblazoned on it.
In short, I’m ridiculously grateful that I didn’t naively get rid of Agatha Christie: An Autobiography during one of my bookshelf purges. It’s engaging, clever and (for the most part) very honest. It’s probably quite insulting that the quote from Woman’s Own on the cover is, ‘the best thing she’s ever written,’ (never mind those seventy-odd other books, ey?) but I’m sure it was meant well. Because, honestly, it probably is my favourite thing she’s written. I loved this book.
1. [Reading that article… of course Arthur Conan Doyle took her glove to a bloody medium. Of course he did. Idiot.]↩
Have you read Agatha Christie: An Autobiography? Did you love it as much as I did?