In 1925, Miss Nan O’Dea infiltrated the wealthy, rarefied world of author Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie. In every way, she became a part of their life––first, both Christies. Then, just Archie. Soon, Nan became Archie’s mistress, luring him away from his devoted wife, desperate to marry him. Nan’s plot didn’t begin the day she met Archie and Agatha.
It began decades before, in Ireland, when Nan was a young girl. She and the man she loved were a star-crossed couple who were destined to be together––until the Great War, a pandemic, and shameful secrets tore them apart. Then acts of unspeakable cruelty kept them separated.
What drives someone to murder? What will someone do in the name of love? What kind of crime can someone never forgive? Nina de Gramont’s brilliant, unforgettable novel explores these questions and more.
It has been an incredibly long time since I have felt this conflicted about a book.
On the one hand, I can’t say I regret the experience of reading it. Gramont is a competent writer and is able to capture a mood efficiently.
On the other hand-
For starters, I do not understand the choice to go with a first-person perspective when so much of the novel consists of telling what other people are experiencing. The author tries to obfuscate this by saying Nan is able to piece together a narrative based on second-hand knowledge but…where the hell does she get this knowledge? How did she know what Agatha is thinking while she is driving her car away from Styles? How did she know what the police officer thought about his experience in World War I? It’s such a bizarre choice when Gramont could have easily told the story through a third person perspective from multiple viewpoints.
By having Nan tell us what everyone else is doing and thinking it makes her sound like an arrogant bitch. If Nan is supposed to be a psychopathic character who thinks she knows everything because she’s better and smarter than everyone else, this choice would make a lot of sense. However—no spoilers—this is obviously not the writer’s intention. The writer doesn’t make Nan out to be a morally good character necessarily, but she isn’t supposed to be portrayed as a psycho.
So why do this?
Secondly, I don’t particularly like the explanation of what Christie was doing during her disappearance. I can’t give too much away without delving into spoiler territory, but it just makes the world feel too insular. I would have preferred to hear Christie tell her story from her own perspective rather than have Nan whisper in our ear about the machinations of the writer’s mind.
Then, of course, there is the weird murder that’s kind of shoe-horned in. I did like the twist at the end, but it just felt too hammy to have a murder in a novel about a murder mystery novelist that existed in real-life. I know Doctor Who did it…but that’s Doctor frigging Who. I’m also aware this is the premise of Murder, She Wrote, but Angela Lansbury’s character isn’t a real person. The Christie Affair is supposed to be a historical fiction story based on true events.
As a writer I understand the desire to let your imagination run free and fill in the gaping holes that history leaves behind. Hell, one of my favorite novels of all time is The Terror by Dan Simmons, a novel about the disappearance of the clandestine ship lost in the arctic that features a demon polar bear that picks off the crew members one by one.
That being said, I feel like too many creative liberties were taken with this novel in regards to characters and their motivations. Not to mention it self-spoils constantly. Yes, the avid Agatha Christie fan probably knows the actual trajectory of her life. However, those who only have a cursory knowledge of Christie (like myself) are spoiled by these unnecessary nuggets of information.
It’s not even “dramatic irony” like Romeo and Juliet, it just takes a massive dump on any suspense you might have felt about how things would turn out.
I didn’t hate this book, but I expected more from it considering how rapt I was first the first quarter.
Now it’s time for ——
I fervently disliked everything to do with Agatha’s disappearance story-wise. Everything from her running away with Finbarr, to her love affair with Chilton, to her coming to terms with the end of her marriage was a no-go for me.
For one thing, Christie’s love affair with Chilton comes out of left-field. Basically she decides to initiate it because…she thinks he’s nice? I understand it more from her perspective considering she isn’t in her right mind at the moment. I just don’t get why Chilton would let himself get so caught up in this.
Well I wanted to top myself, but then this missing 36 year-old ginger hit on me and took me to bed so I guess we’re good now.
Then there is the relationship with Nan and Christie and boy is that a mess. And not for the right reasons either.
According to the writer, Nan and Christie basically come to an understanding and Christie sympathizes with her enough to let Nan get away with murder.
I don’t think there’s much debate as to whether or not Nan’s victims (her child’s abductors and serial rapists) deserved to meet an untimely demise…..but that doesn’t mean Chrisie would just shrug off the fact that this woman enacted an extremely intricate murder plot and seduced her husband. And, oh by the way, this woman is going to be the step-mother of her child.
Regardless of this woman’s motivations, Nan still broke up Christie’s family. Regardless of this woman’s motivations, she is willing to kill out of revenge.
Does it not occur to Agatha— this incredibly talented writer with a penchant for writing elaborate murder mysteries—that this woman could potentially commit other killings in the future? Let’s be clear, Teddy is safe. She isn’t being mistreated. She isn’t in the system lost and alone. What Nan does to the former nun and father is purely retaliatory. Is it deserved? I would argue, yes. But that doesn’t change facts.
If this woman is hellbent for leather on being with her child, even if it means marrying a man she has no interest in, isn’t that cause for some concern on Agatha’s part?
Also, the police officer Chilton is, likewise, willing to let this woman that he barely knows go off the hook for double homicide.
Does it seriously not occur to any of these weirdos that she could kill Archie and keep Teddy to herself? She got away with murder once, what’s stopping her from doing it again? If you tried to tell anyone then you would have to admit you knew about the other deaths and you would be charged with aiding and abetting a criminal.
…..That polar bear demon is sounding more and more plausible all the time.
I know a lot of people are going to say “it’s foreshadowing Murder on the Orient Express.” To which I would reply “yes, it is.”
There is a big distinction between writing something in a book and experiencing it in real life. In real life, I seriously doubt someone would just let this slide especially if it affects people close to them. They certainly wouldn’t let their child continue to be around someone like this.
I am not a mother. But mothers reading this blog, would you seriously let your child have a close and intimate relationship with someone you knew was capable of hatching Christie-level murder plots complete with actors, poisons, and cross-Atlantic journeys?
I sure wouldn’t.
I know I’m getting really hung up on this, but it bothers me on so many levels.
Also, this may be a nit-pick, but I find it so convenient that Nan just happened to stumble across her child while in England. I think it would be a much better twist if it turned out Nan is just mad with grief and decided that this child of a quasi-successful writer is the one she lost.
It would have been more plausible at least. As it stands, this book requires far too much suspension of disbelief for me to fully enjoy it.
The episode of Doctor Who where Christie fights an alien wasp is more realistic than this.
At the very least it was less of a downer.
So, did I hate this book?
Did I love it?
It was incredibly good up to a point (the story of Nan and Finbarr being the best part), but the author expected me to buy a lot more than I was willing to.
I’ll give it a 6/10.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Christie Affair” by Nina de Gramont”
Hmm. I was intrigued by this because I’ve decided it’s time for me to start reading more Agatha Christie. But the first-person narrative does seem like an odd choice. In a way, I think first person is really trendy right now. But it’s not always the right choice for a story, I agree.
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I can see why first-person is so popular, but yeah. It was a really bad choice for this book xD
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