12 September 2010

Weekly Geeks 2010-31 - What makes an author last?

Although I really have blogged enough today, I couldn't ignore the invitation embedded in this week's Weekly Geeks task.
    This week's discussion topic is inspired by the fact that on September 15 the world celebrates the 120th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie. She was born in 1890, published her first novel in 1920 and her last one in 1976 (the same year as her death). Her books remain extremely popular and are still being read, listened to, adapted for new computer games and TV shows and are the subject of loads of special events including a month-long blog tour this September. Have you read Christie's books? Recently? What do you think it is about them that has given them such lasting value?
Followers of MYSTERIES in PARADISE will be aware of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, a journey to read the books of Agatha Christie in the order of publication.
As Bernadette, our Weekly Geeks host this week, has pointed out, this week we are celebrating Agatha Christie's 120th birthday, and significantly, the 90th anniversary of the publication of the first of 80+ novels.

So why have her books lasted?
Here are a few reasons. If you can think of more add them in the comments.
  • Agatha Christie was prolific, writing more than one book a year, and also publishing short stories in a range of publications including mystery magazines, newspapers.
  • Her regular publications built up an audience anxiously awaiting each new book. What would it be? Miss Marple? Tommy and Tuppence? Hercule Poirot?
  • She had aggressive publishers who struck deals for British and American publications, sometimes, confusingly, under different titles. Her novels were translated widely.
  • Her work is eminently readable, and most novels were relatively short (by today's standards at least)
  • She was full of stories, always playing around with new scenarios, never afraid to try something new. 
  • She tried a range of formats: full novels, short stories, plays.
  • Her mysteries were plausible, plots relatively simple, although full of red herrings and puzzles, and yet at the same time the reader mostly had the chance to come up with a theory before the final solution was announced.
  • She created believable, well fleshed out characters.
  • She was an acute social observer, and her observations about how life was changing in England after World War One were valid. She continued in the same vein for over 50 years.
  • She set many of her stories in exotic locations such as Egypt and Mesopotamia so her readers could travel with her (at a time when overseas travel was beyond the means of most).
  • And even when her locations were not exotic, she provided escape into an maginary world of excitement, mystery, and suspense, for readers whose lives were much more mundane, leaving plenty of room for the reader's imagination and their interpretation.
  • To some extent she created, at the same time being part of, the Golden Age of crime fiction, together with Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, and Margery Allingham.
  • For 75 years her books have been available in cheaper paperbacks - in fact she is credited with encouraging the birth of Penguin books.
Whether Agatha Christie would be as successful if she was just starting out today is a question posed over at Poe's Deadly Daughters: Dear Ms. Christie, I regret to say...

So celebrate the fact that the work of Agatha Christie is still very much alive, this month in particular.


Bernadette in Australia said...

LOL Kerrie, I knew you wouldn't be able to resist.

Having enjoyed my re-introduction to Ms Christie of late I decided to re-read some of her contemporaries and was surprised by the comparisons - which I will write about in my own weekly geeks post just as soon as I can find the energy

gautami tripathy said...

Agatha Christie will always be remembered. I know I have not been a part of the tour. I have read almost all her books and this was a good chance to re-read but somehow I wasn't in the right mindset. I have got most of her novels, thanks to my eldest brother. He donated the lot to me.

Maybe I will re-read all those as a personal goal.

Margot Kinberg said...

Kerrie - You've captured so very well the essence of why Agatha Christie's popularity has been so durable. Thanks for this reminder :-).

Susan said...

Excellent post, Kerrie! I really enjoyed the reasons why Agatha is still relevant as a mystery writer. She was my introduction to mysteries in the adult form (after reading every childhood book that was a mystery that I could find). Tommy and Tuppence are still my favourite crime fighting duo. I've been meaning to reread some for a while now, so your post is a lovely reminder of why she has such staying power.


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