The Mysterious Mr. Quin: Agatha Christie in Phoning it in Shocker

27 12 2010

Let’s just get one thing straight: I bloody love Agatha Christie. But that will not stop me from saying loud and proud (well, whispering quietly and shamefacedly) that she is just not that great of a writer. Techincally speaking and that. Usually her clunky dialogue and obvious plot devices (not to mention her disappointingly male gaze-y descriptions of female characters) don’t really matter because she gets the rest of it so right. But there are other times when you just want to say to her, “Look, you’ve written a bazillion books already! Don’t rush this one. You don’t need the money. Just put your feet up and have a G&T and we can leave this in a drawer somewhere, yeah? I hear there’s a rather entertaining play on the wireless later…”

Oh Ags. If only you’d had a friend like me.

Sadly you didn’t, and the net result was Mr Satterthwaite, a fussy, snobbish old man who enjoys poking his nose into other people’s business and solving implausible coincidences — sorry, mysteries — with his semi-supernatural magic-rainbow-producing gay crush. In all probability he’s hallucinating for at least 30% of the book. Why do rainbows and shit mysteries suddenly appear, every time you are near? Just like me, they long to be, part of these dreadful stories.

Well, I say he solves them, but actually the whole plot develops around whatever would be useful being true in order to chime in with whatever stupid dénouement old Ags has got planned so while he come across as borderline psychic, it’s simply that she left the scaffolding on when she built this one.

I’d like to point out as an aside that Agatha said that Sats and old Quinny mcQuinface were her favourite characters. BATSHIT ALERT. Never trust an author to say what stuff what they done wrote is any cop. It’s always hobbledeehock. I mean, Quin doesn’t even have any character. I despise the overuse (and frequent misuse) of the word literally, but seriously dudes, literally all he does is rock up and ask Sat a bunch of questions and then bugger off again into the mysterious ether from whence he came. For all we know he might be a formidable chess player, a talented bassoonist, a generous and skilled lover and a cooker of a mean spaghetti carbonara. A man who enjoys slightly misty October days and often wonders if he would be happier if he had trained as a doctor, and whether Wendy really meant that thing she said to him in Dover all those years ago. Who knows. That would sure as hell be a lot more interesting than what we do find out about him, which is sweet diddly squat. He is an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a vest. Or, you know, a lazy plot device / supernatural exposition machine/ the fevered projection of a closeted nutbag. I’m taking all bets.

Lest you should think I’m singling out Quin for criticism vis a vis having no personality, the rest of them are just as bad. Apart from Satterthwaite, who after all is the NARRATOR, everyone is the whole damn book might as well be a cardboard cut out. The characterisation is so non existent and the things that happen to them so implausible and obviously contrived — and most of it the unverifiable conjecture of a nosy old twat anyway — that it is literally impossible to give a shit about them at all. If you can even remember which of them is which, which I doubt. I’m really sorry Agatha, but you have to remember you are no Graham Greene. You can’t just write half a line about someone and think that counts as indicating their proclivities or past. The whole of this god damn collection just seems like she hastily scrawled it on the back on an envelope whilst drunk and then couldn’t be arsed with changing any of it.

Do any murderers ever think dressing up as a ghost will be a good way to avoid detection? Does anyone need a daft old git and his imaginary friend to work out what happened when ballistics experts exist? Does the love of a good woman cure terminal diseases? What the hell is even happening in half the time?

You may remember the old “invisible servants” trope from such rants as Wuthering Heights, and, I suspect, most of Western literature from about 1693–1957. But this one really stands out among Christie’s other works for just treating everyone beneath an Earl as either non-existent (how DO they get the napkins so starched around here? must be magic. everything else in this book conveniently is) or of no interest.
I mean, come on! At least Poirot actually talks to working class people. Often as equals. It’s one of his little trademark quirks that unlike the stupid old British labouring under the great burden of their class assumption, quick-witted plucky Belgian Poirot can actually talk to poor people! As if they are humans! And thus he finds the answers that stuck up Scotland Yard and/or any poshos lying around, e.g. Hastings, are too set in their ways to even consider. Bully for him vive le socialisme etc.

What Satterthwaite and he have in common is a certain Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons -esque feeling of “oh I’ve wasted my life”. But unlike Poirot’s wistful and underplayed gestures towards loneliness, old Sat is definitely going to let you know that things didn’t pan out quite the way he had planned. He never quite comes out and says “if only it had worked out with Eric”, or, you know, just comes out, but it’s there in every other word he does say. It’s unfortunate for us all, however, that loneliness has not made him bitter, because instead he spends all his time matchmaking anyone under the age of 50 who happens to cross his path. The underlying theme of all of these so-called mysteries is the bringing together of some couple or other, because obviously you can force people to fall in love just like that. But then romantic realism is not something Ags is really known for; the ends of cases are frequently sealed by some implausible hetronormative happy ending.

There you have it: it is better to have loved and lost than to be surrounded by coincidences that make no sense and hallucinating a tall dark carny who fucks up the laws of physics.





Wuthering Heights: You Make Your Own Problems (And Everyone Else’s Too)

20 07 2010

The whole reason for this blog started a couple of weeks ago when I decided to read Wuthering Heights properly for the first time.

Oh god. I could not put it down. Except when I threw it at the wall a few times. I read the whole thing in one sitting — TEN HOURS OF MY LIFE I WILL NEVER GET BACK — scribbling furiously (in both senses of the word) in the margins my angry responses like some sort of bizarrely meta parody of Cathy with her secret book-defacing diary.

Firstly, can I just say to the Brontës, Hardy, and anyone else who feels like giving it a bash, ‘phonetically’ spelt yokel accents /’quaint’ ‘rustic’ spelling are fucking annoying. That’s not even what anyone from Yorkshire sounds like Ems, sort it out, Joseph sounds like Wurzel Gummage with a speech impediement. Also he’s a twat.

But he doesn’t have to feel too bad about it, partly because relgious nutters never do, and partly because so is everyone else — all of the characters in the novel except  Ellen and Hareton made me want to rip all my hair out by the roots and stuff it down their throats. Just when I think these attention-seeking bell-ends can’t piss me off more than they already have, out comes another preposterous comment or ludicrous turn of events until it physically hurts. Frankly I think Ellen deserves a bloody OBE for putting up with these whiny ridiculous morons for THREE GENERATIONS in complete ISOLATION, with not only an admirable restraint from hatcheting everyone to death in their beds, but also from even passing more than the most subtly scathing remark. From her point of view the whole thing could be summed up as: Teenagers/The Upper Classes are Hilariously Rubbish.

I mean, you have a man who is supposed to be a BROODING HOTTIE, but also of course an out and out WIFE BEATING RAPIST POTENTIAL MURDERER SAVAGE OUTLAW BLAH ETC, who in between clobbering the hell out of everyone within arms reach and roaring like a bear with a stuck head attempts to inflict his MASSIVE FEEELINGS on everyone. I know everyone hates emos and there’s hardly a queue to listen to their bleating on, but honestly? Why don’t you tell a servant you’ve physically assaulted and who never liked you anyway about how no-one has ever known love like what you have? That’ll go down well. CONTEXT MAN. Way to pick your audience. Oh wait, you can’t, unless you want to go and tell the drunk guy who wants to stab you instead. You could get a livejournal? Oh my mistake they don’t exist yet. Well, there’s always writing it in the margins of boring books of religion like your dead moron of a girlfriend did , oh wait you probably can’t write even though you are now mysteriously rich and classy for reasons that NEVER GET EXPLAINED. Anyway, dead girlfriend, yeah– oh, what is it something I said? You seem to have put down your beating stick and started weeping like a small pathetic little girl. With pigtails. This is like if the Krays couldn’t shoot someone’s kneecaps off without having to stop for a sob, or if Fred West wanted to read you some poems about violets before he bummed you to death and turned you into an attractive water feature. You are the VILLAIN of a GOTHIC NOVEL. Have some self re-cocking-spect.

Oh while we’re on the subject of your stupid dead girlfriend (who wouldn’t have married someone else anyway if you’d just SAID SOMETHING instead of storming off to sulk like you were the world’s biggest baby or something.), both she AND you, might I remind you, THE HARD MAN, the VILLAIN, died in the most unrealistically pathetic way reminiscent of a 14 year old Manics fan’s fantasty of getting back at mum and dad and all the kids at school – they BOTH, contrary to medical probability, die after skipping lunch for a couple of days and going out in the rain. If that were true I am pretty sure that upward of 90% of the population would have been wiped out by then. Not to mention the fact that maybe Cathy can afford to indulge her romantic whims of lounging about in bed feeling sorry for herself, but he was a filthy urchin begging on the streets of Liverpool and then later set to work all day by Hindley. No wonder it took him til he was in his ACTUAL FORTIES. yes, that’s right, a grown man in ACTUAL MIDDLE AGE went and died of the sniffles out of a sad over some girl who never even went out with him when they were CHILDREN (oh yeah by the way, good choice, partial incest and all). DUDE WHAT YOU ARE OLD ENOUGH TO BE MY DAD as well as being SUPPOSEDLY A BADASS. When are you going to STRAP SOME ON?

In fact his whinging is the only thing old Cliff has in common with his SO CALLED SON, Linton. Yeah right is Heathcliff Linton’s father. That’s definitely true. Leaving aside any other temperamental or physical differences, it is literally genetically impossible for a man with black hair, dark skin and dark eyes to father a boy so pasty he makes Casper the friendly ghost look tanned unless Linton is actually an albino. I asked a biologist and everything. Seriously, we are taking all bets here – the only other serious contenders are a her OWN brother, a small boy, a man so drunk he’d be playing pool with a length of rope — eh eh catch my drift — and an elderly religious maniac. It’s not looking good here on the incest-aversion front. I mean seriously, stuff ‘Is Heathcliff A Murderer?’ – try ‘Did Edgar Bang His Own Sister And Get Her Up The Duff?’ It would explain why she scarpered with the first remedial psychopath that came along, not to mention why even after she denounced Heathcliff as a massive bumface, Eddie still doesn’t want anything to do with her: his wife’s enough of a fruitcake as it is, without having that come back to bite him on the arse. So they send her off down South which is apparently the same as Outer Mongolia or Mars or being dead for all anyone ever hears from her after that. AND it explains why Linton is such a useless, sickly, barely-functional wuss. Just as a side note, Linton, ladies love it when you pretend to have a fit. Next time try and crap yourself too. Phwoar.

I suppose the dad could have been one of the MYSTERIOUS servants from the BARELY MENTIONED villages who ONLY turn up for five seconds when it is convenient to the plot to have some letters intercepted or some such nonsense, and then immediately bugger off never to be seen again like some mystical fucking act of nature. Which I suppose is roughly how the upper classes saw their servants back then. And as it is, if Heathy did slip it to Isabella in between the beatings, we only find out when she turns out to be avec sprog FOR PLOT REASONS later on anyway, it does seem to hardly matter who actually spunked the spunk as long as Heathcliff gets all up in everyone’s grill about wanting to CONTROL the child. LIKE SOME KIND OF MOTIVELESS BUMFACE oh wait that is exactly what he is. I mean, seriously, is he meant to have some kind of diagnosable mental disorder, or is it just that Ems could not be arsed one iota with consistent character development?

Possibly due to the under-a-gooseberry-bush school of contraceptive awareness and the meet-less-than-5-humans-in-your-life school of social interaction, it’s hardly surprising that the majority of these characters seem like they would, if real, actually have learning difficulties. Quite aside from the fenlands-IQ issue, they just literally don’t ever learn from anything.  Edgar: OH MY ARCH NEMESIS HAS MOVED NEXT DOOR I KNOW I WILL STAY AND BE A RECLUSE AND BRING UP MY DAUGHTER HERE WHERE SHE WILL MOS DEFS NEVER BUMP INTO HIM.

Isabella: OH NOES I R DYING SHALL I SEND MY ONLY SON, POSSIBLY THE CHILD OF THE DUDE I HATE, TO AN ORPHANAGE, OR ANOTHER RELATIVE, OR ANY BLOODY THING EXCEPT TO MY BROTHER WHO NEVER SPOKE TO ME SINCE I LEFT WHO INCIDENTALLY LIVES RIGHT NEXT TO THE GUY I RAN AWAY FROM WHO RUINED MY LIFE, WHO DEFINTELY WONT WANT TO STICK HIS OAR IN AND TRY AND KIDNAP MY ONLY SON?

Planning: you are doing it WRONG. You know what this needs? A strong dose of JEREMY KYLE.

I do understand that the whole POINT of this book is they’re all like this cause they grow up in the middle of rural mentalshire with no other humans but their neighbours and siblings (and the aforementioned now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t servants from ill defined other places) and that this is the kind of thing that makes you a nutter, an incester, and apparently partial to naming everyone the same damn three names, and incredibly vulnerable to missing lunch and forgetting your brolly. And yes old Emmy B probably wanted us to feel at least part of her immense pain at being stuck in just such a dump. But honest you guys, other places exist. The dad goes to Liverpool at the start, Izzy gets shipped off in the family way to the South, they own the houses themselves so they could just sell them and go. Or do a runner and hock all their fancy clothes and jewellery or something if the obscure and never properly explained gambling downfall of Hindley somehow effects Eddie &co. But no. Instead these inbred, home-schooled emos ruin own lives and those of everyone round them needlessly complicatedly. THERE IS A LESSON IN THIS.

And it is this: don’t adopt urchins you find lying about on a whim and then treat your other kids like shit, and if you do fall in love with your sort of sister just have the common decency to elope and leave the rest of your family out of it.

I think Emily Brontë may have inadvertantly invented Hollyoaks.

In short:  YOUR actions have consequences, and YOUR twatting about is going to make everyone unhappy as well even after you’re DEAD AND BURIED. They should make this into a Lord Kitchener style poster for emos.