Last month, September 2015, saw the world celebrating Agatha Christie’s 125th birthday. Several books, events, broadcasts, and other releases marked the occasion. Finally, I’ve got organized and on top of my shopping list. This week, I’ll be reviewing five new Christie releases. One a day.
Julius Green’s new book fills a gap. I can’t be the only person who has yearned for a volume like this, and even had ideas of writing one. But could anyone have done a more exhaustive job? A beautiful 600 page affair, Curtain Up is full of new information. Must of it is unsurprising, but some is a revelation. For instance, if you’ve ever thought, as I have, that Murder on the Nile should end two lines before it does … prepare for good news … and then for astonishing news. The play went through several versions, including every conceivable variation on its ending. In fact, Christie originally intended something altogether different — and stronger. Green has trawled all the big archives and produced a comprehensive “story of the most successful female playwright of all time [who] also wrote some books.”
I suspect that the proofs were not diligently checked. Every now and then, words are jumbled up in the most confusing manner. As if a block of text has been accidentally moved or inserted at an early stage. Worst of all, there are no footnotes. There are footnote citations — hundreds per chapter — but no actual footnotes! For such a scholarly volume, this is a crying shame. It’s not altogether a mistake: the footnotes, we are told in an author’s note, are too extensive for print, so they appear on a website. I have nothing nice to say about that.
A charming blend of anecdotes, letters, reviews, and commentary, the tone is never dry. A clear impression emerges of Agatha Christie as a formidable businesswoman who was ultimately frustrated in her ambitions even as she gained international success. By the end we have a grasp of a committed theatrical network. About half way through, Green observes that “a proper understanding of when, where, how, why and by whom a play was first presented is critical to an understanding of the subsequent fortunes and reputation of both the play and its writer.” He then goes on to describe the “complexities” of production – “endlessly fascinating” but sometimes “hard to digest.” I think that that paragraph provides a good nutshell of Green’s book as a mainstream study. But “fascinating” is the key word here.
Tomorrow: Miss Marple’s Final Cases