Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Intriguing Bookish Beginning of 'Postern of Fate' by Agatha Christie

'Postern of Fate' by Agatha Christie, from 1973, is not considered one of her best stories.  It is one of her last books, and the last one with Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, who are getting on in years by this time. In fact, the writing is rather poor at the start of the book, and one wonders if she intentionally used such poor dialogue and excessive repetitiveness to express a decrease in mental faculties for characters no longer young?   Or was she sadly not writing as well as before?  Who knows?  Despite that,  I've always liked this book and have read it several times; not sure if I can even explain why, but there is an atmosphere to it that appeals to me. 

In the beginning of the story, the Beresfords had just moved into an old house in the country, or rather a village (a theme that always appeals), and the adventure begins gently with attempts to sort through and arrange masses of books.  Along with their own books, Tommy and Tuppence also acquired many old books from the previous owners, and ones that had apparently been in the house for many years before that.  

Now this is my favourite part:  Whilst going through and trying to organise all those books, Tuppence gets consumed with browsing through and reminiscing about wonderful books she'd read in childhood.  A wonderful array of tantalizing titles are mentioned:

Mrs. Thomas Beresford replaced The Cuckoo Clock, by Mrs. Molesworth, choosing a vacant place on the third shelf from the bottom.  The Mrs. Molesworths were congregated here together.  Tuppence drew out The Tapestry Room and held it thoughtfully in her fingers.  Or she might read Four Winds Farm.

She removed  some more books.  Three-quarters of an hour passed with her absorbed first in Alice Through the Looking-Glass, then with Charlotte Yonge's Unknown to History.  Her hands lingered over the fat shabbiness of The Daisy Chain.

Albert mounted on a chair and banging each book in turn to dislodge such dust as it had managed to gather on it, handed things down.  Tuppence received them with a good deal of rapture.
"Oh, fancy!  All these.  I really have forgotten a lot of these.  Oh, here's The Amulet and here's The Psamayad (Psammead).  Here's The New Treasure Seekers.  Oh, I love all those.  No, don't put them on shelves yet, Albert.  I think I'll have to read them first.  Well, I mean, one or two of them first, perhaps.  Now, what's this one?  Let me see.  The Red Cockade.  Oh yes, that was one of the historical ones.  That was very exciting.  And there's Under the Red Robe, too.  Lots of Stanley Weyman.  Lots and lots.  Of course I used to read those when I was about ten or eleven... The Prisoner of Zenda.  One's first introduction, really, to the romantic novel.  The romance of Princess Flavia.  The King of Ruritania.  Rudolph Rassendyll, some name like that, whom one dreamt of at night."

Albert handed down another selection.   (Then mention is made of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Catriona, and The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson).

"The Black Arrow.  I declare!  The Black Arrow!  Now that's one of the first books really I ever got hold of and read...Now let me think...The Black Arrow.  Yes, of course, it was that picture on the wall with eyes-real eyes-looking through the eyes of the picture.  It was splendid.  So frightening, just that....It was all about-oh yes, the cat and dog?  No.  The cat, the rat and Lovell, the dog.  Rule all England under the hog..."  She sat down in the chair, took The Black Arrow, opened the pages and engrossed herself.  "Oh dear," she said, "how wonderful this is.  I've really forgotten it quite enough to enjoy reading it all over again.  It was so exciting." 

'The Black Arrow' is a great book indeed, and in the midst of reading it, Tuppence finds a mysterious code and message within the pages, and thus begins the mystery story. 


  1. I like the beginning you describe where the books are mentioned and commented on.

    1. Hello Terra, yes that bit is rather infectious and makes one want to start reading all those stories!