Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Practice Review - Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None.

In the past, any review I've done has had the nickname 'Lit review' in front of it, and science's version of Literature has nothing to do with fiction. Hopefully, Cannonball reviews won't need referencing, because, embarrassing but true, I'm no good at EndNote.

So, before November 1st, I thought I'd sneak in some practice. Just in case it turns out that I need to learn that fucking program afterall.

I bought this book because I was due to treat a group of mice via a nebuliser for an hour, and watching them bathe in the mist gets really boring after two minutes. It's a lot better than most of the stuff I do to them, but it's still boring. I read most of it in that hour, then finished it in my lunchbreak. I'm a latecomer to Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, which makes me some kind of heretic amongst bookworms, but I'm going to make up for lost time, 'kay?

And Then There Was None is a classic 'strangers with secrets trapped in a house with a killer' story. I'd wager that it was this book that made it a classic storyline. Ten people are brought to an island via mysterious means, and trapped there by U.N. Owen ('Unknown'), who's got a burning desire to lay down some vigilant justice. Each of them are responsible for the death of another person. Some directly, some indirectly, and all of them exonerated by the law or society.

One by one, they're killed off, the manner scripted by a poem framed in each of their rooms ('Ten little soldiers', a variation on Ten little Indians). They quickly realise the killer is one of them, though they've got no idea who. The story moves fast, dragging the reader along with it, until the inevitable conclusion. Because it's a mystery, I won't give away the ending, but it's good. It's very good. Christie has a gift for sketching characters while keeping them utterly believable, so you don't end up screaming at the pages 'Oh for fuck's sake, why are you so stupid?!'. I found Emily Brent, the ultra-religious bitch, particularly interesting, and I found myself wishing she'd died a little later; that perhaps she might have then been introduced to an entirely different kind of Revelation.

If there's any problem with reading 'classics' it's that the plot has inevitably been diluted by repeated retellings by people who've clearly decided that, since the plot has already been figured out, they better focus on cheap tricks to keep the reader/viewer interested (I'm looking at you, Saw, but I'll give you a pass, Clue). The originals are still brilliant, but I always feel like both the author and I have been ripped off. The author, because, well, they've been ripped off, and me, selfishly, because I'm missing out on some of the sheer joy that comes with a good, original, storyline.

I discovered a bit of the history of this book, and I hesitated before mentioning it, but chances are good someone else will anyway. The bookcover claims it was originally published as 'Ten Little Indians', but, according to Wiki, the first title was actually 'Ten little Niggers', and the poem and name of the island reflected that (in the version I have, it's soldier island). I read that some people believe that Christie was using the predjudices of the time to convey just how 'separate' the island was, and play into the fears we're given in childhood. Personally, I don't think the story has suffered at all for the changes, and, whatever deeper meaning Christie was trying to convey, it's no longer relevant. Of course Christie may have possessed those same predjudices, but somehow, I doubt it. (Mind you, I'm basing that on a very small amount of evidence).

I just thought I'd better add, in case my countries recent stupidity with that Blackface skit gives anybody the wrong idea: there's no way in hell I want to see the original title in a bookstore.


  1. oh no! that was too good.
    there's no way mine will be gooder than that!
    my nerves are SHOT.
    everyone is going to laugh at me and point and, you know, pig's blood.
    well, i hope YOU're happy. your practice run is so successful it's driving me iNsAnE.

  2. Well YOU've made me blush, and I haven't done that since I got a back massage from a lovely chinese gentleman and there were some wacky language barriers and I'm STILL not sure if I was meant to take my shirt off or not. At least this is a happy blush.

    I promise not to point OR laugh at your reviews. I don't think anybody will, we're all too nervous about our own!