e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “Agatha Christie”

More anniversaries

Browsing through various websites I’ve come across a couple of literary anniversaries that might interest or amuse.

The first is Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap which has been celebrating its 60th anniversary for some months with a touring production. Its true anniversary is in November for which there is a special ‘star-studded’ performance.

I was interested to see in the Guardian archives that it had at least one bad review. Yet it’s still going strong, while the reviewer is probably long since retired.

Why is it so popular? Of course, it has become an institution; a must-see for visitors to London. But in order to get to that position it had to run for a good many years.

Despite so-so reviews, it attracted audiences from the beginning. It gives them something that some reviewers apparently miss. It has suspense, a good many laughs, distinct, if not very realistic, characters, and a strong structure moving swiftly to an unexpected climax. I think all these things give the audience a lift if not a catharsis.

The other anniversary I came across is the 80th of National Book Tokens.

The invention of this easy but happily received present should get a large pat on the back. How many aunts, uncles and grandparents, stuck for a gift, have joyfully sent off book tokens for birthdays and other gifty celebrations?

Other tokens have followed, but I think book tokens were probably first.

I remember the first time I received one when I was very young. After my mother explained what it was, I was thrilled at the idea of being able to choose my own book without having to save pocket money to do it. I can’t remember what I chose, but I do recall it took me weeks to do it: going into bookshops, browsing, hovering between this story and that, then going out again to think it over.

‘The Mousetrap’ on the move

So The Mousetrap is about to be 60 years old, setting yet more records and opening a new chapter in its life-history by going on tour.

I saw it in London years ago and I can understand why it’s so popular. Even though I know ‘the secret’ of the end, I might see it again during the tour.

Agatha Christie remains one of the Queens of Crime and her work is still everywhere – books, plays, TV, film you name it. She’s been analysed, criticised, translated (second only to Shakespeare in this apparently) and made into a character in others’ stories. She even had an episode of Doctor Who.

My favourite Christie appearance is as a child in Author, Author by David Lodge. This is a fictionalised account of Henry James, with whose life she just overlapped. In a short and delightful scene, the ageing James, holidaying in Torquay, meets the 5-year-old Agatha riding her tricycle on the front.

The episode isn’t a vital part of the plot, but it’s one of the things I remember best about the book. There’s no evidence that it happened – but it could have. It ought to have. Life is full of lovely coincidences, why not this one?

For me these little vignettes are among the most liberating features of literature. Fiction writers and readers are the freest people around – free to make history what it should be, to hijack the dead and give them chunks of extra life (see Gyles Brandreth’s Oscar Wilde series for an example), free to ignore things that don’t make a good story.

The Mousetrap is a good story – one of the best. That’s the main reason it’s still setting records.

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