25 April 2012

Review: TAKEN AT THE FLOOD, Agatha Christie

  • this edition, Paul Hamlyn Agatha Christie Collection published 1971
  • originally published 1948
  • pages 157 - 327 ( 170 pages)
  • Source: personal collection

Synopsis (Christie site)

A few weeks after marrying an attractive young widow, Gordon Cloade is tragically killed in the London blitz and overnight the former Mrs Underhay finds herself in sole possession of the Cloade family fortune. Shortly afterwards, Hercule Poirot receives a visit from the dead man's sister-in-law, who claims she has been warned by 'spirits' that Mrs Underhay's first husband is still alive. Yet what mystifies Poirot most is the woman's true motive for approaching him.

First published in 1948 by William Collins Sons & Co. in London, and as There Is A Tide, by Dodd, Mead & Co. in New York.  The title of the novel is taken from William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act V, Scene III, in which Brutus tells Cassius: "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."

My take

The most interesting feature of TAKEN AT THE FLOOD, apart from the central and rather tangled story of the dashed expectations of the Cloade family, is the social commentary on the effects of World War II not only on Britain as a whole, but also on the personal expectations of those who either served in the forces or stayed at home. In my review of THE HOLLOW, the previous novel, I commented that, although there was no specific reference to the war, people don't seem to realise that the old way of life has gone forever, that the days of large houses and servants to run them has gone forever.

In TAKEN AT THE FLOOD Christie explored the changes from a different angle. World War II is a character ever present.
Lyn Marchmont has returned home to live with her elderly mother, who was one of those dependent for her allowance on Gordon Cloade. Lyn realises that the money is not going as far as it used to, but her mother has not as yet seen the need for some economies, for doing some of the housework herself.
Lyn is unemployed and feels that the qualities that war service encouraged and valued are not valued in this post war world.
    Enterprise, initiative, command, those were the commodities offered [by the returnees]. But what was wanted? People who could cook and clean, or write decent shorthand. Plodding people who new a routine and could give good service.
Lyn was engaged six years before, before the war, and now she has come home to marry Rowley, who stayed home and farmed. He is conscious that she has changed and she thinks he hasn't.

And worse, Gordon Cloade's young widow is a stranger and she and her brother have access to the Cloade fortune, which before the war supported the extended family.
    Lyn thought suddenly, 'But that's what's the matter everywhere. I've noticed it ever since I got home. It's the aftermath the war has left. Ill will. Ill feeling. It's everywhere. On the railways and buses and in shops and amongst workers and clerks and even agricultural labourers. And I suppose worse in mines and factories. Ill will. But here it's more than that. Here it's particular. It's meant!'
This theme of nostalgia for the pre-war days, nostalgia for the sense of purpose that imbued the days of war, continues throughout the book.
    'Yes, it's soon forgotten - all of it. Back to safety! Back to tameness! Back to where we were when the whole bloody show started! Creep into our rotten little holes and play safe again...'
For some the war gave opportunity, only to have it snatched away again when the war ended. But the fabric of society had been irrevocably ruptured. In addition the expenses of the war and its destruction had to be paid for.

The views expressed by various characters seem to be Christie's own heartfelt views, the result of her own observations and reflections in the period just after the war, when life can't have been easy.

The storyline of TAKEN AT THE FLOOD has its complications and problems. It explores the concept of Enoch Arden, a narrative poem written by Alfred Lord Tennyson in 1864 in which a long missing  sailor returns home to find that his wife has re-married. The character Enoch Arden appears not only in this Christie novel, but also in the short story "While the Light Lasts" and in GIANT'S BREAD, the first Christie's six novels written under the pseudonym of Mary Westmacott.

I think the plot itself caused Christie a few problems. Hercule Poirot is called in to investigate, and is himself duped by a man whom he vouched for as a reliable witness. The final explanation of the solution to the puzzle is simultaneously clever and inventive, but also a bit out of left field. There is a time when Christie plays with the readiness of the reader to trust the judgement of Lyn Marchmont.

My rating: 4.6

This is #39 in the novels I have read for the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge.


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - Great review, for which thanks. I couldn't agree more that this one is as much a look at World War II and its after-effects as it is a murder mystery. The plot is a little tangled, but I liked the characterisations of the various members of the Cloade clan.

Irene said...

I've not even heard of this title thanks for bringing it to my attention. At some point I don't think Poirot fit into the scheme of things. I believe Agatha actually hated him towards the end. Thanks again for a great review.


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