Reviews & Rants - Blogging about books, authors, and generally 

Reading progress update: I've read 92 out of 288 pages.

Flucht in den Norden : Roman - Klaus Mann

I'm glad I've finally gotten around to reading this book, but it is not one of Mann's best. Perhaps understandable given that this is his first book after having to leave Germany, and in many ways, trying to come to grips with his new situation through his fictional characters.


So, even when he was not at his best, he was still a better writer than many others. 

Reading progress update: I've read 72%.

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

Remember Macbeth. “After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.”

This is getting spooky, but the last 4 Christie books (Sparkling Cyanide, By The Pricking of My Thumbs, Third Girl, and The Pale Horse) I picked up ALL had references to Macbeth in them!


Reading progress update: I've read 54%.

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

I don’t know what I had expected, but I suffered a complete reversal of feeling. There was nothing sinister here; merely a completely ordinary young to middle-aged woman. Not a very interesting woman, and not, I thought, a particularly nice woman. The lips, in spite of a generous application of lipstick, were thin and bad-tempered. The chin receded a little. The eyes were pale blue and gave the impression that she was appraising the price of everything. She was the sort of woman who undertipped porters and cloakroom attendants. There are a lot of women of her type to be met in the world, though mainly less expensively dressed, and not so well made-up.

Oh, Mark, you judgmental little dumbass.

Can we have Ariadne back please?

Reading progress update: I've read 31%.

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

Just picking up from a conversation earlier today about Christie having a tendency to portray psychologists as horrible human beings:

‘Poisons! That’s vieux jeu. Childish stuff. There are new horizons.’

‘Such as?’

‘The mind. Knowledge of what the mind is—what it can do—what it can be made to do.’

‘Please go on. This is most interesting.’

‘The principle is well known. Medicine-men have used it in primitive communities for centuries. You don’t need to kill your victim. All you need do is—tell him to die.’

‘Suggestion? But it won’t work unless the victim believes in it.’

‘It doesn’t work on Europeans, you mean,’ she corrected me. ‘It does sometimes. But that’s not the point. We’ve gone further ahead than the witch-doctor has ever gone. The psychologists have shown the way. The desire for death! It’s there—in everyone. Work on that! Work on the death wish.’

Muahahahaha! The psychologists have shown the way! 


So, yet again, psychology as a slight step up from voodoo and witchcraft. 


I also kinda like how the meetings with the ladies at The Pale Horse are set off against Mark's visits with Mrs Dane Calthrop, the voice of reason at the vicarage.

Reading progress update: I've read 23%.

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

I am a little bit confused about what exactly is going on - i.e. where is this plot going?


Also, who are all of these characters? I mean, I get Ariadne, and Mark, and even like that we meet Rhoda and Major (now Colonel) Despard (from Cards on the Table) again, but what is it with the introduction of all of these other characters? 


I may need to make a list. :O

Reading progress update: I've read 17%.

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

‘Oh, but just think,’ said David. ‘It’s rather like madness. If you have someone who raves and staggers about with straws in their hair and looks mad, it’s not frightening at all! But I remember being sent once with a message to a doctor at a mental home and I was shown into a room to wait, and there was a nice elderly lady there, sipping a glass of milk. She made some conventional remark about the weather and then suddenly she leant forward and asked in a low voice: ‘“Is it your poor child who’s buried there behind the fireplace?”

Oh, a nice tip of the hat there.

Reading progress update: I've read 10%.

The Pale Horse - Agatha Christie

Well, I'm on to the next Christie and have come across another description that yet again has the same tone and attitude problems that spoiled Third Girl for me:

"It was rather dark in the Espresso, so you could not see very clearly. The clientele were almost all young people. They were, I supposed vaguely, what was called the off-beat generation. The girls looked, as girls always did look to me nowadays, dirty. They also seemed to be much too warmly dressed. I had noticed that when I had gone out a few weeks ago to dine with some friends. The girl who had sat next to me had been about twenty. The restaurant was hot, but she had worn a yellow wool pullover, a black skirt and black woollen stockings, and the perspiration poured down her face all through the meal. She smelt of perspiration-soaked wool and also, strongly, of unwashed hair. She was said, according to my friends, to be very attractive. Not to me! My only reaction was a yearning to throw her into a hot bath, give her a cake of soap and urge her to get on with it! Which just showed, I suppose, how out of touch with the times I was."

I can only hope that this will not take up as much page-time as it did in Third Girl.


On the other hand, can we just take a moment to celebrate both Ariadne Oliver and Hugh Fraser's absolutely delightful narration of her?


Yes, yes we can.

‘Do you want a cigarette?’ Mrs Oliver asked with vague hospitality.

‘There are some somewhere. Look in the typewriter lid.’

‘I’ve got my own, thanks. Have one. Oh no, you don’t smoke.’

‘Or drink,’ said Mrs Oliver. ‘I wish I did. Like those American detectives that always have pints of rye conveniently in their collar drawers. It seems to solve all their problems.

Countdown on Christie

**Updated to keep me on track**


Just a quick update on my closing in on the Dame Agatha Reading Project:


I have the following books (novels only) left:


- Death in the Clouds

- They Do it With Mirrors

- Sparkling Cyanide

- By the Pricking of My Thumbs

- The Mystery of the Blue Train (BR with Lillelara this w/e)

- Third Girl 

- Why Didn't They Ask Evans (BR with Moonlight Reader and TA next w/e)

- Dead Man's Folly

- The Pale Horse (currently reading)


I will probably read them in the above order, so that I can finish the canon on the high note that is Ariadne Oliver, who appears in both Dead Man's Folly and The Pale Horse.


Because plans change.


"I should have written more Ariadne stories."


Third Girl

Third Girl - Agatha Christie

‘Did she say anything?’

‘She said she had been into the bathroom to wash the blood off her hands—and then she said, “But you can’t wash things like that off, can you?”’

‘Out, damnéd spot, in fact?’

‘I cannot say that she reminded me particularly of Lady Macbeth. She was—how shall I put it?—perfectly composed. She laid the knife down on the table and sat down on a chair.’

‘What else did she say?’ asked Chief Inspector Neele, his eyes dropping to a scrawled note in front of him.

‘Something about hate. That it wasn’t safe to hate anybody.’

What a strange book! 


When the book starts off with our favourite Belgian detective receiving a visit from a young woman who clearly has a problem that's been weighing on her mind, I was both dismayed and delighted.

Dismayed because Poirot's immediate attitude to the young is that of what I can only describe as a git. 

He had hoped perhaps for something nearer to his own estimate of female attraction. The outworn phrase ‘beauty in distress’ had occurred to him. He was disappointed when George returned ushering in the visitor; inwardly he shook his head and sighed. Here was no beauty—and no noticeable distress either. Mild perplexity would seem nearer the mark. ‘Pha!’ thought Poirot disgustedly. ‘These girls! Do they not even try to make something of themselves? Well made up, attractively dressed, hair that has been arranged by a good hairdresser, then perhaps she might pass. But now!’

However, I was also intrigued by the woman's reaction to Poirot:

‘I’m awfully sorry and I really don’t want to be rude, but—’

She breathed an enormous sigh, looked at Poirot, looked away, and suddenly blurted out, ‘You’re too old. Nobody told me you were so old. I really don’t want to be rude but—there it is. You’re too old. I’m really very sorry.’

She turned abruptly and blundered out of the room, rather like a desperate moth in lamplight. Poirot, his mouth open, heard the bang of the front door.

He ejaculated: ‘Nom d’un nom d’un nom…’

And there we have one of the major conflicts of the book right from the start of the book - the generational clash - each treating the other with disdain. Unfortunately, much of the book continues in the same vain, pitching the fears of the old against the ignorance of the young. 


It made me wonder if Christie had developed a dislike for young people at the time she wrote this, or if she merely didn't know any young people anymore and just lost touch. 


The book is set in the mid-1960s (we have disparaging references to beatniks and The Beatles) and we get comments about men looking like women, women no longer taking care of their appearances, young people being generally rude and selfish in the way that they don't let other people know their whereabouts and a ton of other complaints about the awful state of society which is peopled by young people. 


All the while, the actual young people we meet are nothing like any characters of the era. The actual characters struck me as drafts that Christie dug out from notes she made for an earlier book written or set in the 1930s. There is a bit of a difference there and when reading Christie's characters I felt that most infrequent of connections to the Joe Ortons and the Alan Silitoes of the time, who tried to give their generation an actual voice because Christie so very clearly could not.


Now, I realise that Christie in all likelihood also never intended to become the new spokes-person of British youth in the 1960s, but from the depiction of her characters it really sounded like she had completely disconnected with the world around her. 


From there on, this book just became more bizarre and just ... sad. 


While the Bright Young Things of Christie's earlier novels were charing, capable and full of spark, the young people (mostly in their early 20s) were self-fish, soul-less, callous, confused, incapable, naive, and - if we consider the main twist of this mystery - just plain gullable?


What happened Dame Agatha???


On top of this weird obsession with the generational divide, this is also the book that I will henceforth remember as the book where characters obsess about sex and throw in a bunch of pseudo-psychology references, which made for even more of a cringe-fest:

Poirot looked again at his list.

‘And what about Mr David Baker? Have you looked him up for me?’

‘Oh, he’s one of the usual mob. Riff-raff—go about in gangs and break up night clubs. Live on purple hearts—heroin—Coke—Girls go mad about them. He’s the kind they moan over saying his life has been so hard and he’s such a wonderful genius. His painting is not appreciated. Nothing but good old sex, if you ask me.’

Poirot consulted his list again.


‘So that is what you say. Rubbish! And not neurotic?’

‘Any girl, or almost any girl, can be neurotic, especially in adolescence, and in her first encounters with the world. She is still immature, and needs guidance in her first encounters with sex. Girls are frequently attracted to completely unsuitable, sometimes even dangerous young men. There are, it seems, no parents nowadays, or hardly any, with the strength of character to save them from this, so they often go through a time of hysterical misery, and perhaps make an unsuitable marriage which ends not long after in divorce.’

Oh, what insight! (*rolls eyes*)


I have mentioned before that there were certain aspects of Dame Agatha's writing that she was not very good at: espionage thrillers is one of them, anything to do with sex and/or romance is, imo, another. 


As great as some of her other on-page relationships are, the romance angle in her books has never worked for me, and in many cases has even creeped me out - Sad Cypress, The Man in the Brown Suit (needed a barf bucket for that one), Taken at the Flood, ...


Sadly, there is a similar romance angle at the end of this story, which is both unbelievable (because why would a woman who has just survived a major trauma so readily fall in love) and also totally inappropriate (because that was still meant to be a professional relationship). 


And still, even this was still not the dumbest aspect of this novel. Nope, the award for sheer w-t-f-ery has to go to the incredibly daft plot - not only the way that poor Norma is messed with but also the utterly ridiculous notion that she would not recognise someone in a wig. 


Both are utter nonsense.


Nevertheless, the fact that we have Poirot, Miss Lemon, and Ariadne Oliver interacting in this one was fab. 

Actually, Ariadne Oliver's presence in this book alone made up for some (but not all) of the disappointment that this books stirred in me. 

‘How did you get this?’ asked Restarick of Poirot, tapping it curiously.

‘From a friend of mine via a furniture van,’ said Poirot, with a glance at Mrs Oliver. Restarick looked at her without favour.

‘I couldn’t help it,’ said Mrs Oliver, interpreting his look correctly. ‘I suppose it was her furniture being moved out, and the men let go of a desk, and a drawer fell out and scattered a lot of things, and the wind blew this along the courtyard, so I picked it up and tried to give it back to them, but they were cross and didn’t want it, so I just put it in my coat pocket without thinking. And I never even looked at it until this afternoon when I was taking things out of pockets before sending the coat to the cleaners. So it really wasn’t my fault.’

She paused, slightly out of breath.


Now pass me the Creme de Cassis.

The Sunday Post

This Sunday Post is food-heavy. 


No adventuring or cute animal pictures this week as we had quite strong winds this weekend and some of my plans were changed at the last minute. 


So, instead, I have had a chance to catch up with friends over some ice cream, browse one of my favourite second-hand bookshops, and go wild with the new cooker - and by go wild I mean try a couple of new recipes that I will last for a couple of weekday lunches. 


First off, I had a blast meeting with some friends at our new favourite haunt - the ice cream parlour in town. It's been our first meet-up in the new year and we had a great time, even if (or is it because?) we didn't try the Haggis and Marmalade ice cream that was on offer. 

Yes, I kid you not. They had that concoction - I was offered a taster, which I politely declined, not just because it wasn't veggie, but also because there is no universe in which Haggis & Marmalade ice cream should be a thing.


Instead I went for some white choc & coconut and a scoop of creme brulee ice cream. 



On the way home, I stopped by a favourite charity bookshop. It's one of those gems of a shop that carries more than just your old bestsellers and popular books. There are specific sections for niche interests, antiquarian, and what I also like is that it is frequented by students a lot who also donate books, so there is a great variety of "classics". The shop is also my go to place for passing my own read books on to. 



I look forward to reading them all, but I was most surprised to find a copy of Jill, which I believe is Larkin's first novel. It will be a while before I get the books and given that most (if not all) of them are a bit bleak, it will take a while to read them.


Has anyone got any thoughts on them? Any heads ups I should know?


Lastly, we have more food. 


While some of my original plans (like going to the movies) were postponed at the last minute, I had some time to spend on cooking while Hugh Fraser narrated some Dame Agatha to me, which is a fab way to spend a few hours.

I somehow ended up with a veggie version of pulled pork. I'm not quite sure how but I assume I picked it up when going shopping while half-asleep and very hungry. 

Anyway, I figured I should try something with it and found a recipe for it. 


I eventually settled for this one here, and it was delicious. I have some left overs for lunch tomorrow.



I also wanted to do some meal prep for this week and try a new soup ... you know, other than just throw things together in a pot and see how it goes. 


As it turns out, this Cabbage and White Bean Soup (sorry the picture is not great) was pretty easy and felt a lot like just throwing things together in a pot. So, I loved making that. It is also really, really tasty. I have to say, tho, that I didn't follow the recipe exactly (because I just am not capable of doing such a thing...which is also why I am not a baker). I felt the soup needed caraway seeds. So, I added them. 



Anyway, this is it for this weekend. 


Hope you had a fun one.


Reading progress update: I've read 5%.

Third Girl - Agatha Christie

‘Yes, I am upset. My feelings—ah, well, no matter.’

‘But tell me about it.’

‘Why should I make a fuss?’

‘Why shouldn’t you? You’d better come and tell me all about it. When will you come? This afternoon. Come and have tea with me.’

‘Afternoon tea, I do not drink it.’

‘Then you can have coffee.’

‘It is not the time of day I usually drink coffee.’

‘Chocolate? With whipped cream on top? Or a tisane. You love sipping tisanes. Or lemonade. Or orangeade. Or would you like decaffeinated coffee if I can get it—’

‘Ah ça, non, par exemple! It is an abomination.’

‘One of those sirops you like so much. I know, I’ve got half a bottle of Ribena in the cupboard.’

‘What is Ribena?’

‘Blackcurrant flavour.’

‘Indeed, one has to hand it to you! You really do try, Madame. I am touched by your solicitude. I will accept with pleasure to drink a cup of chocolate this afternoon.’

‘Good. And then you’ll tell me all about what’s upset you.’

She rang off.

You just have to love Ariadne Oliver - she knows how to make an entrance in a story, and here she covers all her bases of non-alcoholic tea-time beverages, too.


Can you actually imagine either of the two characters enjoying anything with Ribena in it?

Reading progress update: I've read 2%.

Third Girl - Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot was sitting at the breakfast table. At his right hand was a steaming cup of chocolate. He had always had a sweet tooth. To accompany the chocolate was a brioche. It went agreeably with chocolate. He nodded his approval. This was from the fourth shop he had tried. It was a Danish pâtisserie but infinitely superior to the so-called French one nearby. That had been nothing less than a fraud.

Now, this could not possibly be a dig at the (currently troubled) institution that is Patisserie Valerie, could it?

Reading progress update: I've read 7 out of 288 pages.

Flucht in den Norden : Roman - Klaus Mann

Now that I have cleared a lot of books from my "currently reading shelf", I can look forward to getting stuck into this one. 


I really have enjoyed all of Mann's books that have crossed my path so far, but always feel like they need some undivided attention because his story-telling usually ends up drawing me right into his world. 


With this book, that's quite an unsettling prospect. 

Reading progress update: I've read 79%.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries) - Agatha Christie

Well, this has become quite convoluted, but I have enjoyed this one more than I expected. My expectations were, unsurprisingly, quite low for this one after Postern of Fate had been the last T&T novel I read, and I wasn't fond of the previous ones either.

Reading progress update: I've read 20%.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs (Tommy & Tuppence Mysteries) - Agatha Christie

‘Look here, Tuppence—I know I’ve been rather preoccupied—It’s all this I.U.A.S.—It’s only once a year, thank goodness.’

‘It starts on Monday, doesn’t it? For five days—’

‘Four days.’

‘And you all go down to a Hush Hush, top secret house in the country somewhere, and make speeches and read Papers and vet young men for Super Secret assignments in Europe and beyond. I’ve forgotten what I.U.A.S. stands for. All these initials they have nowadays—’

‘International Union of Associated Security.’

‘What a mouthful! Quite ridiculous. And I expect the whole place is bugged, and everybody knows everybody else’s most secret conversations.’

‘Highly likely,’ said Tommy with a grin.

‘And I suppose you enjoy it?’

‘Well, I do in a way. One sees a lot of old friends.’

‘All quite ga-ga by now, I expect. Does any of it do any good?’


Gotta love Tuppence for seeing through this at once.

Sparkling Cyanide

Sparkling Cyanide - Agatha Christie

Whilst we were dancing, the ghost of Rosemary hovers near George’s glass and drops in some cleverly materialized cyanide—any spirit can make cyanide out of ectoplasm. George comes back and drinks her health and—oh, Lord!’

The other two stared curiously at him.

And so am I. I did not enjoy Sparkling Cyanide anywhere near as much as other Christie books, and it is one of the very few where I believe that the tv adaptation (either of the two tv adaptations I have seen - one with Pauline Collins and Oliver Ford Davies, and one with Anthony Andrews) were much more engaging than the book. 


Of course, Sparkling Cyanide is nowhere near Christie's worst book(s) - that honour goes to Passenger to Frankfurt, hands down - but there were a number of aspects that annoyed me:


1. I was bored. This is not a great story to read if you already know who's dunnit.


2. While I liked a few of the characters - Lord and Lady Kidderminster and their daughter and son-in-law Sandra and Stephen Farraday - these characters, in the original, were just no patch on their tv versions - Clare Holman and James Wilby were excellent (!) and I could actually really care for their versions of Sandra and Stephen. Christie's book versions paled by contrast and I was a little disappointed how wooden and stilted their relationship was depicted.


3. There just seem to be way too many characters in this one. Now, this is a perception only. There probably aren't any more characters in this than there are in  some of my favourite Christies - Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile or Three Act Tragedy anyone? These have lots of characters but they are very distinct from each other - and they are memorable. The characters in Sparkling Cyanide weren't. If it had not been for Hugh Fraser's lovely narration giving each of them a voice (in a manner of speaking), I would have had no feel at all for who was who.


4. The murder. The method (tho with a different element) of murder had been used before, and to my mind, in a much better way. The other story I am thinking of is one of my favourite Christies and reading this re-hash has left me seriously underwhelmed. 


Sparkling Cyanide started life as a short story (The Yellow Iris) and is one of several stories that Christie revised for a longer book. In this case, it didn't work. I actually prefer the short story. 

Currently reading

Notes on a Scandal by Zoƫ Heller
Progress: 123/259pages
Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds
Progress: 51/450pages