Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Murder Mysteries: The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

Unlike the sense of occasion that Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes work A Study in Scarlet has in the way Watson's narration reveals to us a detective with (literally) superhuman powers of deduction, Hercule Poirot is treated as any other character. All Holmes lacks is a superman cape, in contrast Poirot is as human as a detective gets. 

Something is not right at Styles Court, England. Even as the shadow of World War I looms, new hostilities have taken root at Styles ever since the old Mrs Inglethorp took a younger husband. Her step children, dipped in financial problems, are now wary of what will become of them. Even as the old lady's close companion leaves the house after an altercation, the visiting Arthur Hastings sees that all is not right. Soon enough, a murder is committed.  

First published in 1920, The Mysterious Affairs at Styles is an astonishing debut. Christie's Doyle inspiration is only seen in casting Arthur Hastings (Watson to Poirot) as second fiddle and narrator. Hastings  is often piqued by Poirot's excitement, he frequently doubts that the bald headed Belgian is getting old. Nowhere is Poirot allowed to loom as the central figure. He has a passion for method and order; doesn't claim to have knowledge of all forms of cigar ash or of the exact origin of the earth stuck in a suspect's shoes. Instead, he has a sharp mind and common sense. Imbibing all that has occurred, taking in each detail, fitting in the pieces, playing a slow game of chess with his 'grey cells', Poirot unearths the truth systematically and painstakingly.

What is more chilling and awe-inspiring is Christie's genius. Like her British film contemporary Alfred Hitchcock, Christie had a thing for fitting in crime into ordinary, every day situations. Acute knowledge of poisons was Christie's forte, and somewhere between what seemed to have occurred and what had actually transpired, Christie built her intrigue.

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)

Friday, 6 September 2013

Short Story Reads: Marrying Off Mother by Gerald Durrell

"When a writer is born into a family, the family is doomed." 
- Czelslaw Milosz, Polish poet

Few writers have been gifted by a wealth of source material as British writer Gerald Durrell (1925-1995) was endued with. The source material we are referring to is Durrell's family. Now, how many writers have lived a event-filled childhood with three older siblings, a widowed mother, and a motley of creatures on the Greek island of Corfu? Gerald Durrell did, between the age of 10 and 14; the four year stay leading to several books, including the 1956 memoir My Family and other Animals

Several Corfu short stories were also subsequently published. Durrell mentions in the collection where Marrying Off Mother appears that: All of these stories are true or, to be strictly accurate, some are true, some have a kernel of truth and a shell of embroidery. Durrell cheekily concludes the introduction with: Which of these stories is true and which is semi-true I have, of course, not the slightest intention of telling you, but I hope this will not detract from your enjoyment of them.  

The author's humorous narration makes Marrying Off Mother one of the breeziest stories you will ever read. Then there is the excellent range of vocabulary and rich descriptions of attire and appearance. Durrell himself features in the story as an adolescent Gerry along with his older siblings Larry (Writer Lawrence Durrell), Leslie and Margo. 

It is summer in Corfu and at the start we can already see the person Gerald is becoming. He keeps extraordinary company, waking up to a room filled with his troop of dogs, specimens in test tubes, tree frogs, translucent geckos and a Scops Owl, among other paraphernalia. The proceedings start at the idyllic breakfast table and it is Larry's casual comment on his mother's single status that brings in a wave of suitors to the family's door. Apart from a view of Corfu's heavenly surroundings, by the end of the story we know the entire Durrell family well enough to make their acquaintance. 

The fun never subsides in what is clearly a mix of memoir (certainly) and (probably) fiction. Gerald is usually a silent witness (who thinks a lot) to the proceedings, the quirky rejoinders are provided by his family. 

I do wonder what his family thought of Gerald Durrell's version. So many writers have found their families hostile post publication. We have no news yet of any unrest in the Durrell family. But it can certainly be concluded that easily available source material have their share of perils...

(Article by Snehith Kumbla)