… Agatha Christie
I finished reading it at the end of December. I can’t remember exactly when I began reading it. I think it was the end of May because in a Sunday Salon post then I wrote that I was thinking about starting it. I read short sections of it most days since I started it and felt quite sad when I came to the end. It was like having a daily chat with Agatha.
It took her fifteen years to write it. She stopped in 1965 when she was 75 because she thought that it was the ‘right moment to stop’. It seems right that a book that took her so long to write should take me a long time to read. As well as being a record of her life as she remembered it and wanted to relate it, it’s also full of her thoughts on life and writing. I’ve written about her Autobiography in a few posts as I was reading it:
- Agatha Christie on Writing
- Her thoughts on the nature of life and memory
- An A-Z of Dame Agatha Christie taken from her Autobiography
- On her joy of being alive and happiness
- On working in a hospital dispensary in 1917
- Hercule Poirot
- On individuality
It struck me as I was reading her Autobiography that it’s not very easy to work out the dates of many of the events she described. It follows on chronologically but is so interspersed with her thoughts and reflections that I forgot the date, or she hadn’t mentioned it. She wrote about her childhood, teenage years, friends and family, and her marriage to Archibald Christie; but although she wrote about their divorce she didn’t write about her disappearance in 1926. She wrote about her travels around the world, the two world wars, her interest and involvement with archaeology and her marriage to Max Mallowan.
Towards the end of the book she wrote that she had decided not to tidy up her Autobiography too much:
Nothing is more wearying than going over things you have written and trying to arrange them in proper sequence or turn them the other way around. I am perhaps talking to myself – a thing one is apt to do when one is a writer. (page 455)
What she remembered most were things that were most vivid and it was places that remained most clearly in her memory. She never had a good memory for people, apart from her own dear friends:
A sudden thrill of pleasure comes into my mind – a tree, a hill, a white house tucked away somewhere by a canal, the shape of a hill. Sometimes I have to think for a moment to remember where and when. Then the picture comes clearly, and I know. (page 416)
She wrote quite a lot about her writing methods, writing criticism, hearing your own voice, economy in wording, writing detective stories, adapting plays and writing them herself, the right length for a detective story (50,000 words), writing two novels at once, writing books set in historical periods and the joy of creation. The one book that satisfied her completely is not one of her detective books but one she wrote under the name of Mary Westmacott – Absent in Spring – and she wrote it in three days flat (pages 516 -7).
She ended the book with these words:
A child says ‘Thank God for my good dinner’.
What can I say at seventy-five? ‘Thank God for my good life, and for all the love that has been given to me.’ (page 551)