28 May 2024

Review: ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER, Agatha Christie

  • originally published 1972
  • this edition published in Australia by Harper Collins
  • ISBN 978-0-00-816497-3
  • 245 pages

Synopsis (publisher)

Hercule Poirot stood on the cliff-top. For here, many years earlier, there had been a tragic accident – the broken body of a woman was discovered on the rocks at the foot of the cliff. This was followed by the grisly discovery of two more bodies – a husband and wife – shot dead. But who had killed whom? Was it a suicide pact? A crime of passion? Or cold-blooded murder? Poirot delves back into a crime committed 15 years earlier and discovers that, when there is a distinct lack of physical evidence, it’s just as well that ‘old sins leave long shadows.'

This story is part of Agatha Christie’s murder in retrospect series, a collection of stories which look at a crime several years after the fact, piecing together testimonials and witness reports to finally uncover the truth. This time we see Mrs Oliver’s goddaughter, attempting to find out the truth about her deceased parents – who killed whom?

    Elephants can remember, but we are human beings and mercifully human beings can forget.
    Ariadne Oliver, Elephants Can Remember  

My Take

I have already recorded a review of this novel here.

I am re-reading it this time for discussion with my U3A Agatha Christie group. 

I ma pleased to see that this time around I have actually rated the novel a tad higher - perhaps because I am now 10 years older, and have a better appreciation of aging and of the fragility of memory in particular.

I haven't necessarily repeated comments that I made in the earlier review.

Please be aware that there may be mini-spoilers in what now follows.

To solve a cold case (15 years before) where a husband and wife were assumed to have committed suicide, the sleuths decide to contact "elephants" - elderly people who may have known the couple in the past or may have heard rumours/gossip about them. 

Ariadne Oliver visits many of these "elephants", including her own Nanny, and raises the tragedy in conversation to see what these people know. As she says, many of these don't actually know anything for certain, have even made up scenarios to fit what they have heard, but they have heard stories, details unconfirmed. Gradually, for the reader, a picture emerges, but really Mrs Oliver doesn't "see" it.

Ariadne is quite systematic in her investigation. She goes back through her old address books and tracks down people she hasn't seen for years. An interesting picture emerges of the life that Ariadne has led too.

Hercule Poirot mainly exercises his little grey cells. Ariadne frequently reports to him with what she has found out. He mainly pulls strings to contact ex-policemen who worked on the case at the time. He even makes a flight to Geneva when he realises there are 2 people who know more they have revealed. All becomes clear.

Some critics have cruelly suggested that Christie has Alzheimer's or similar when she wrote this. They cite a reduced vocabulary, repeated phrases etc. I think it is more that Christie is trying to emulate how elderly people talk and how they reminisce in a sort of rambling way. They become uncertain about what they once knew and have a tendency to embroider on what they can remember. 

My interest in Christie is always on how she comments on social issues. At the time of writing the book she was 82, and there are lots of comments about aged care, reduced circumstances, nursing homes, and even how mental health issues are being handled. 

I don't think the plot is strengthened by the wimpish characters that Celia Ravenscroft and Desmond Burton-Cox turn out to be.

However when you bother to look at it in depth, the plot is quite intricate and the various threads raise a lot of issues: the nature of community and individual memory, love, age, the effectiveness of psychiatric treatments etc.  Ariadne Oliver and Hercule Poirot are themselves aging (this is their last case together, in fact, for both of them, their last cases), and I think they put a surprising amount of energy into this investigation.

I hope I haven't spoiled your reading of it!

My rating: 4.5 

My reviews of all Agatha Christie novels

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin