January 2023 Book Club: The Christie Affair

Cover art for The Christie Affair.

And then there were none by Agatha Christie was one of the first adult books I read. In fact, the memory of finding at my Grandmother’s church book sale is burned into my mind. I was in fourth grade and was getting tired of reading Nancy Drew books. The other women at her church spent hours sorting books into categories so that I could spend minutes pouring over the mystery section, reading the text on the back for any title that caught my eye. In the end, I walked away with three books, And then there were none, Roses are red and Violets are blue.

To this day, And then there were none remains one of my favorite novels, one I reach for again and again. I’m also in love with the recent mini-series adaptation even though it significantly changes the ending. Having read and enjoyed other Agatha Christie books, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to be curious about a fictional book discussing what happened when Agatha Christie went missing.

Let’s start with the fact that Agatha Christie did in fact go missing in 1926 for 12 days. Police searched for her for 3 days after finding her car abandoned with two wheels hanging over the edge of a chalk pit and eventually expanded the search after finding themselves unsatisfied with the results (The New York Times did an excellent summary of the time period). True, she wasn’t as well known as she is now, but for 12 days there wasn’t a reliable witness and to this day no one knows what really happened during the 12 day period. It’s a mystery novel in and of itself.

Using Christie’s Husband’s Mistress as a narrator, The Christie Affair aims to tell a fictional story about what happened during those 12 days and I think it does an amazing job. True, there are elements of the story that are almost too convenient (like who the mother of the child is), but the convenience doesn’t go so far as to take you out of the story.

I enjoyed reading about love, both a mother’s and a lover’s. I enjoyed the portrayal of Agatha as someone who was willing to commit to and keep a secret. This was a fun read and a fantastic way to kick off 2023. This wasn’t a book with levels of hidden depth, but it was one that made you think about how someone’s history affects their present.

Next month, we’ll read Book of night by Holly Black. I’m particularly excited about this one because it’s Black’s first adult novel (I read a lot of her books growing up) and because it takes place in an area that I grew up in and around.

Cover art for Book of Night by Holly Black.

In Charlie Hall’s world, shadows can be altered, for entertainment and cosmetic preferences—but also to increase power and influence. You can alter someone’s feelings—and memories—but manipulating shadows has a cost, with the potential to take hours or days from your life. Your shadow holds all the parts of you that you want to keep hidden—a second self, standing just to your left, walking behind you into lit rooms. And sometimes, it has a life of its own.

Charlie is a low-level con artist, working as a bartender while trying to distance herself from the powerful and dangerous underground world of shadow trading. She gets by doing odd jobs for her patrons and the naive new money in her town at the edge of the Berkshires. But when a terrible figure from her past returns, Charlie’s present life is thrown into chaos, and her future seems at best, unclear—and at worst, non-existent. Determined to survive, Charlie throws herself into a maelstrom of secrets and murder, setting her against a cast of doppelgängers, mercurial billionaires, shadow thieves, and her own sister—all desperate to control the magic of the shadows.

December 2022 Book Club: The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo had a whimsical description, but it really should have just called itself a retelling of the Great Gatsby from a different perspective. Rereading the description, I’m actually frustrated by the ways that I was let down by it.

Let’s start with the element of magic. In the description, Jordan is said to be able to work magic by using paper. In fact, the description makes it seem that Jordan needs to learn the magic in order to save her life or something of that grandure. When executed, it seemed randomly placed throughout the story. Something that she could do, not something that held any weight to the plot or who she is as a person.

That being said, I like that Jordan recognized that she didn’t like hanging out with people who were “like her” because she was no longer an exotic creature. This was the first true insight into the fact that she enjoyed being treated as such, other than a few other moments where she made a point of telling the reader that she was different (usually when her Aunt and Aunt’s older friends were chatting or when someone asked if she was “one of those girls”) race didn’t seem to matter. I’m not sure what “doors” I was expecting to be closed to her, but it did seem that Jordan could float through society unencumbered.

Although, perhaps that was the point. Perhaps, as we saw with her relationship with Nick, there were things that she wanted but couldn’t have and had developed an external persona to cope with those needs. There are moments, for example, where we are given glimpses of her attraction to women and an understanding that the other women saw it as more of a game than she did. Despite those glimpses and her love for Daisy (as noted in the final chapters), you don’t really get a sense that she wants to be in a relationship with any of those women. Is this another limitation based upon society? Considering the book was written in the first person I feel as though the lack of internal dialog is a missed opportunity. I would like like to sit in what it was like to be Asian and Queer in the 1920s a little bit more.

Another thread I would have liked pursued was the moment when Jordan realizes that she may have been taken from her parents. What must that do to a person? It seemed like a big revelation and Jordan didn’t really dwell on it for very long.

All in all, I enjoyed The Chosen and the Beautiful, I just wanted more depth to it. I feel as though I’ve been given the opportunity to know Jordan at a very surface level. Was this the point? If so, why utilize the first-person narrator?

After reading my fill of Nancy Drew, one of the first mystery authors I reached for was Agatha Christie. I still remember picking up And Then There Were None from my Grandmother’s church book sale (I still have the same copy on my bookshelf, over two decades later). It shouldn’t have spoken to me, the cover literally has nothing other than the title and a noose on it. And yet, that was enough for me to pick it up and read the back cover. Since then, I’ve enjoyed many of her other novels and a few of the film adaptations. For January, let’s dive into what happened during her 11 day disappearance with The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont (fiction).

Cover art for the Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont.

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.