I just finished the last Poirot book that Agatha Christie wrote, entitled Elephants Can Remember. No, it was not Curtain, that was the one published last. Elephants was written near the time of her death, when she was over 80, and obviously reflecting on herself and age and memory. Details in the story are sketchy and sometimes contradictory, dates are confused–much like the memories of the characters, and the nature of memory itself is almost a character in the book. Ariadne Oliver, who is a semi-autobiographical recurring character, plays a strong part.
I’ve set myself a task to re-read every Christie book written, every play and short story, including those under other names. There are over 80 books & collections. I believe this is my third time through them all, but the first time I’ve read through in an organized chronological fashion, thanks to Goodreads. I’ve now finished with the Marple and Poirot books, so I am largely finished, as those were her two main detective characters. Yet to come are some of my favorite characters, however–Tommy and Tuppence, the Harlequin books and her non-crime books. My favorite book of hers is, oddly enough, not a mystery.
As always, I have enjoyed her later books more than the earlier ones. When I started reading the Poirot books I couldn’t remember what I’d liked about Christie exactly. They were fine, but very much of their time, including the casual but pervasive racism and xenophobia of pre-war Britain. Also, they just seemed a bit dry. I also never much liked Hastings, I always thought he was unpardonably stupid, and thankfully he disappears.
As I kept reading I got to the later books and remembered the older Christie I liked so much, as she became more thoughtful and philosophical. Poirot himself ages through the books, delving deeper and deeper into psychology as Christie’s own understanding of psychology and psychiatry also grows. Poirot shows a very human face and one very cognizant of mental illness and love and the twists of life in Elephants, while still, of course, disapproving of murder.
Re-reading Christie, who I first started when I was about 10, is a strange and interesting thing. I re-read her books about every 15 years, and the biggest thing I notice is how much I have changed, by what I notice and think when reading them. It’s a constant by which I can judge myself by my reactions and preferences. Some people have one book they do that with, I appear to have about 80 Christie books.
Elephants Can Remember isn’t my favorite Christie book, but it obviously struck a chord with me a long time ago, which is why I’ve featured it twice in my life. Once it featured in a small art quilt I made about the nature of memory (in which memory is something of a maze). I realized a long time ago that my memory of things is often fractured and not in chronological order, and the ways in which I rearrange my history and why entertain me.
The second reference to the book was through my bookkeeping business, for which I use an elephant as my logo. I deal in facts and written records and comparisons, and I remember things for people. As in the book, I find that people’s intuition about their money and recall of their business history is highly subjective, and as much determined by emotions, anxieties, ideals, ideas, hopes and other non-factual things as they are by facts. I am the objective viewpoint seeking out the most relevant indicators, as Poirot is in the book.
I should finish all the Christie books this year, and it will have taken me two years. I’m sad to say goodbye to Poirot for another 15 years (because of course I’ll do this again!).
PS I read Curtain after posting this. I’d forgotten it’s so heavily focused on Hastings. He is so stupid and conventional and judgmental, the antithesis of what I like about Poirot! I don’t like this book much.