Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

(No Series)

She began in April 1950 on Egyptian archaeological site, ended 15 years later, at the age of 75 because "that is all there is to say". Appointed Dame Agatha, as well as Lady, "not rigidly circumscribed by strict chronology", she remembers only "what I wanted to remember", not her adult disappearance. Starting with "a very happy childhood", embellished by 25 black and white photographs of family, friends and world travels, indexed, she does "plunge my hand into a lucky dip" and revive her "absorbing and usually enjoyable present, which rushes on from minute to minute with fatal speed". In some 200 works translated in over 100 languages, best-sellers created inquisitive old maid Jane Marple, large-mustached Hercule Poirot with "little grey cells", and a cast of sleuths, villains, and eccentrics.

When I found out this one existed, I had to scoop it up. To read about the infamous Agatha Christie's life in her own words? Priceless.

A hefty length at 560 pages, Christie took her time writing this one at leisure, and a year after her death her daughter published it posthumously. The style is her traditional formal tone,  but she also tells her tale as one would having conversations with friends. It's clear from the beginning that she highly valued her childhood home, Ashfield. In fact, a great bulk of the book is spent discussing details of her childhood and growing up. It's clear she remembers these times fondly and places much emphasis on the value of family and experiences as one ages. She recounts the smallest of details that I personally wouldn't be able to remember. It's clear she loved having imagination and playing make believe games with her miniature house designs and dolls.

She begins the book with her love of Ashfield and ends it with a last visit to where Ashfield once stood. It's gone and she still was missing it, seeing all the differences and changes, while finding a small familiar spot she could still recognize. She placed a lot of value on locations, travel, and houses. None spoke to her like her childhood home it doesn't seem. She was a collector of houses, in fact, at one time owning seven at once!

She speaks in detail of her parents, her sister, her nannies and the maid, her first travels and dances, the fashions of the Victorian time, and her interests and loves for music and singing, art and beauty, learning French and the trials and experiences of various schooling. Her parents financial burden only strengthened after her father passed away. She spent time recalled a lot of miniscule details for over a hundred pages during all this, but also injecting a lot of philosophy about several things.  

Interesting how Christie sees servants of her days versus of today and how important they were. She said she couldn't imagine her childhood being so full without her nanny and kitchen maid. Apparently they added much warmth and experience to her life, and she feels they were highly respected and even controlling of the household.

Also interesting to note her feeling of approval for how the Victorian era viewed their children's capabilities, versus today where parents automatically feel their children should be able to shine at everything because of opportunity (which she does not agree with.) She basically says in that day parents would recognize what their children would be good at and not find it limiting, but instead realistic.

Here's a quote from the book I liked:

 “I suppose it is because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas.”

If you want to read this one to see how she came up with ideas for her stories, or even much details about writing, you will likely be disappointed. I'm not sure when closing this book whether Christie  even enjoyed writing that much. It definitely wasn't her first choice of career - she felt she was not good enough to be a professional musician but says it's best to be realistic with yourself and not do something mediocre if you can't shine at it.  She doesn't even start talking about writing and books until much later on  - she finally starts writing and sells her first book at page 283!

Even when starts publishing, she mainly discusses other things such as travel and friends. She mentions Miss Marple maybe twice in the book, Hercule Poirot rarely. I was hoping for perhaps a word of two about her apparent dislike of having to depend so much on that detective, but it wasn't really there. Every time she returned to writing it was only to try and make extra money from the way she makes it sound. Later on she said she was writing for money still, and wanting to concentrate more on plays for enjoyment after finishing her obligatory novel of the year. She did say she was proud of herself for Ten Little Indians and how she considers it her most complex work.

Since she went into so much detail with your youth, she tells of each man she almost married or cared for, and finally for her fiance and eventual husband Archie Christie. It's clear she loved him dearly and they had a good relationship for quite awhile. The big controversy of her disappearance for fourteen days where some people thinks she faked her own death was not mentioned AT ALL. Where it would be in a timetable, she makes a point to say she is writing about what she wants to write about and not dwell on unpleasantries.

One of the best things about this book was an honest inspection of the times, lifestyles, and thought processes of the Victorian Age. It's clear Agatha loved being a part of all that. Her travel stories were intriguing some of the time, but honestly grew a bit dull as she spent hundreds of pages just talking about locations, travel, the plants of the area, and her enthusiasm for it.

When it came closer to mid life she stopped being personal and took a distant approach with the rest of the autobiography. The reason could be her dislike of media and desiring privacy, or else because travels was the most important thing in her life (which it seemed to be) and she thought the best thing to do was write about her wonderful experiences. 

Overall some great moments and insights. It took me awhile, however, as some parts of it are a little dull. I also feel she left a lot of her personal life out and kept herself distant in the second half. It would have been great to read more about her writing and characters and the individual books as well. Overall a must for Christie fans and autobiography enthusiasts.