Book of the month

What do you think about After the Funeral?


  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I love the Book It is in my Top 10.
  • What is good about it, would you say,Tommy?
  • The book stands out to me as featuring Agatha Christie's most frightening murderer. After that, probably Wargraves and then Josephine are the most disturbing.  There is something about "Aunt Cora" and the axe murder combination that makes this book the most unnerving to me, although I don't find the overall story to be that good.  The family members are uninteresting and the murderer is easy to guess.
  • I also find the murder frightening. The murderer seems so harmless - and yet it is convincing.Makes you (or at least me) feel that everyone can be a murderer - my next door neighbour, my best friend, even me. 
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I like the Characters and The Plot, I like the Concept, It is one that doesn't need any of Poirot's Friends where some of the Books without them could do with having them around, because having them helps a Dreary and Dull book but that is perhaps a question of taste as I found Murder in Mesopotamia so Dull I have only read it once and will not read it again and I am thinking of Dropping The Hollow and Five Little Pigs which are both better books from my Reading list, I am perhaps a sucker from the traditional gather people together and shortly after a Murder will occur type of book and the type where something striking happens which add to the Murder triggers events like The Sister saying that someone was murdered, I am also a sucker for Murder Mysteries that include Grand Houses and Village Murders but I might be thinking of another Book there, I also love the Solicitor I suppose Hastings could have been an executer of the Will but he really isn't needed as the book just floats without him in y view, There are Better but not many, It isn't in my top 5 Poirot's but can't put my next 5 in order.
  • I find the general idea of the story to be intriguing, such as the remark made after the funeral with the intention of suggesting a motive for the axe murder (actual victim).  This distraction is a clever device, and it works.  It's not clear whose death to focus on, and with most of the characters being equally suspicious, we are presented with interesting possibilities.  What disappoints me is that I don't care for the characters, who could have been written differently to be of more interest, and the story drags along.  I tend to reread this book quite a bit in spite of its faults because as I mentioned, I find the murderer to be the most disturbing out of all her books and the aspects of the impersonation and planning are chilling.  If it weren't for the cake poisoning, the murderer would not be easy to guess.  I wish that some parts of this book had been written differently.  Another example of a book with a great idea but bad execution is Crooked House.  The plan is genius but the characters are annoying.  She goes to the trouble of fleshing them out but not in any interesting way.  I don't reread Crooked House very much because unlike After the Funeral, there is no lasting impression to draw me back.
  • I have a problem with situations where there has been bereavement - not the main death the action focuses upon, but what has been and now describes and defines the other characters. Looking at that family tree at the beginning of the book, there are so many family members not there any more, and yet their presence leaves a dusty impression like the marks left by a rotted pressed flower. You can't tell what they had been to the others, yet we're supposed to feel the presence they left behind, and yet I need to know what they were like. I felt that failing affecting the novel also with The Body in the Library, and the missing spouses of the old man's younger generation.  In After the Funeral, I need to know what Richard was like. I think AC is good when she defines characters by their relationship with their spouse - as she does in Hercule Poirot's Christmas, and, to an extent, A Pocket Full of Rye, but there are too many absent parties in this book.

    We just don't know, too, what that fail-safe of literature, and especially AC literature, the Victorian patriarch was actually like, and what was the mustiness and constraint of living in his shadow like, waiting for his money. I can't imagine the feelings which would have been well-known to people familiar to AC, and so this novel does not resonate with me as well as the romances do.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    In Body In The Library SPOILER ALERT! we know that The old man's Son was not good with Money partly because he had always been indulged and ot had to be good with Money which tells me that the old man's wife was the type of wife you had at that time, loving and supportive of his Father and son, maybe a Voice of reason but maybe in the end only able to bow to The Old man's eagerness to indulge the son, I can't remember about the Daughter apart from she probably lacked good judgement.
  • @Griselda - you have explained better than I could what I was trying to say about the characters messing up an otherwise clever mystery plot.  I love the framework of the mystery, but as you say, the development of character in relation to the first deceased (whom we are left to conclude died of natural causes after all) is left vague.  Since Agatha Christie was good at weeding out anything except what was important to the mystery plot, she probably could have satisfied our curiosity better had the novel been allowed to be longer.  As far as the Victorian patriarch, I hadn't considered that angle but I think it's easy enough to recognize that money and resentment are a powerful motive, and that is conveyed pretty well in After the Funeral.  I don't think we need to know too much more about the old man for the mystery plot to work.

    The difference in Body in the Library is that there are more suspicious characters outside of the family who are involved, and so family relationships are not the only considerations.  Another reason all of those factors aren't developed further, apart from the size of the book, is that we need to be left wondering about these things so that we can try to solve the mystery.  Never mind that in Agatha Christie it's always the least likely character and usually the spouse if applicable, but still we are to be manufacturing all sorts of scenarios trying to figure it out.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    It says in the Book that the man whose Funeral starts everything off died of Natural Causes doesn't it?
  • Not that I know of, but if you or someone could find that in the text, I will flag it in my book for future reference.  It's left almost certain that he wasn't killed and that the murderer planned to kill Aunt Cora afterwards.  It's only doubtful after her death (because of what she said after the funeral) and through the investigation.
  • @MadameDoyle, I would love to know what circumstances made it agreeable for Agatha Christie to give a lot of time and engagement to her character development, and what factors led to a first rate idea falling down somewhat in  its execution. It could depend on whether or not Dame Agatha was stuck out on a dig in Persia, away from distractions, a catalogue to write up, but, otherwise, plenty of time to devote to the novels which she said she wrote when on excavation. The best of her novels for me, character-wise, is your own favourite, Death on the Nile. I feel that she is immersed in the atmosphere of the boat, and the feelings and sort of comments of the travellers. It feels to me that she wrote the novel when in a similar place. It is almost like a diary when it charts Poirot's breakfasting and movements.She seems to enjoy the novel, and I can imagine that she felt that she was in it somehow, knowing the characters. For me, she is Poirot, in Death on the Nile, and I feel his impressions and judgements are largely hers. I wonder how she thought of the character of Jacqueline?

    She seems to be going through the motions putting flesh on the characters in After the Funeral, and pushing them through their movements like dolls at a tea party. The actor pair are quite abysmal and unbelievable to me. The novel has the feeling of a chore - getting through the story, and this is similar with Sad Cypress, I think. As you say the compulsion of the murderer is the pivot on which the novel turns. It is that tea shop, isn't it? You can imagine AC sitting in one, seeing the bird-like owner, and then, on another afternoon, passing outside the window in the rain, when not enough customers were going in, seeing the empty chairs, the look on the face of the owner in her smart apron - and, in one go, conceiving the whole story. Seeing in her mind that character's antithesis in the extravgant art collector, since all art is frivolous and surplus to requirements, whilst tea and cake can make the day go well.  AC just needed padding for her theme to make a story. As types, the characters are observed correctly, I feel: it is the execution which falls down. I'm sure there are women like Susan all of us know today, many of them attracting men who don't love them.

    I like the novel Evil Under the Sun for  characters. The character and type - Kenneth Marshall - reminds me of a certain actor in the news at the moment, who strikes me as being chivalrous to a fault, and willing or indeed motivated by chivalry and breeding to charge to the rescue of  a maligned female who is enduring what he sees as unfair press. We must not say, of course, who we mean, because it would seem rude, but I am sure you may guess of whom I am thinking - as I think you guessed another character I had mentioned,  the last time.
  • @Griselda - thank you so much for your post!  To answer, we know that Agatha Christie was capable of fleshing out the many dynamics of the characters and relationships, and she probably did in her mind and her notes, but your question is why some times and not others?  Well, I think it boils down to the kernel of the idea she had, the gimmick or device as it's many times called, and with After the Funeral it just didn't happen.  There is too much else she seems to be focusing on.  The book drags, as we both agree, when she must center on the family, and the genius level highlights of the frustrated companion and her impersonation plot will stand out as the memorable aspects of the book.  It's possible that the more frightening details eclipse the others...I can never really get past the axe murder in this book.  It's horrifying.  An example of a book in which her family character development jives with the plot device would be Taken at the all works together and we are left with an understanding of the characters and a satisfying murder mystery.

    Yes, the tea shop is the linch pin that holds the whole motive together and also the minor theme of the book that you have pointed out so well -- the juxtaposition of frivolity and gravity of reality.  I have been acquainted with a woman who was so helpless yet affected to be artistic as a mask.  In Gilchrist's case, to be subservient to such a person and at the mercy of her mindless whims would be a heavy burden to carry.  She finds herself acting as an enabler to this ridiculous fraud, and the secure practicality of a tea shop is a magnet for her, overpowering any better judgement or morality she might have had.

    Death on the Nile seems to be a longer book.  There was a thread earlier about the average number of pages in an Agatha Christie novel with differing opinions about Death on the Nile.  My copies of the book all contain more pages than other Christie titles, and I have always thought of Death on the Nile as longer.  It is my favorite, as I said, although I admit the flaws.  The nail polish is a mistake.  In my opinion, it would have been better to forget that and think of some other (or no other) clue in its place.  The solution to Death on the Nile is barely credible, but the nail polish makes no sense.  It's a manufactured clue for the reader and a flaw, rendering the solution even more unbelievable.  Yet the writing is otherwise so perfect in its character development and structure.  It is the most perfectly structured novel in all of Christie's work.  What don't we know at the end?  Not much.  She ties up nearly everything.  She's exquisite in her execution, including the flaws, which I am fair enough to mention along side of my admiration for the novel.

    Yes, she is Poirot here, and I feel that it's down to her personal experiences in being cheated on by her husband.  I wonder if that is what she is commenting on in so many of her books.  Regarding your question about Jackie, do you mean how she conceived of the idea for the character or what her opinion might have been? 

    And yes, I guessed whom you were alluding to in a previous post, as I am sure I know which man you are hinting at now.  I have thoughts to share about Evil Under the Sun, but to avoid the thread becoming to unwieldy, I will save them for a more relevant post to that book.  Let's hope it's the book of the month soon!

  • In John Curran's "Agatha Christie's Notebooks", Curran brings up the point that Cora Lansquenet's death in After The Funeral is "one of Christie's most brutal and bloody murders" and he elaborates that "the reason for the savagery of the killing in After The Funeral is not justified by the plot and it is difficult to understand why this method was adopted by the killer, or indeed, by Christie [....] stabbing or any other blunt instrument would have met the killer's requirement."

    Curran mentions how the deaths of Miss Sainsbury Seale in One, Two, Buckle My Shoe and Simeon Lee in Hercule Poirot's Christmas seem to fit the motive of the crimes. Why was Cora's death handled the way it was in such a violent and horrific fashion by Agatha Christie? Why did Miss Gilchrist use a hatchet by all means and not any other weapon or poison? Was the use of a hatchet a demonstration of a deep seething hatred Miss Gilchrist had for her employer? Did they both have their scuffles? Was Cora bossy, fussy, or rude?

    What do you make of Curran's observation?

  • I think an obvious reason might have been to make it seem that a strong, beefy male had committed the murder.  SPOILERHaving had plenty of time to plan what she was going to do, Miss Gilchrist could have thought of doing it in such a way that it would not have been identified as her. She wants an element of otherness in there. We could think of Miss Marple and Poirot's maxim that he who is most on the scene is the one most likely to have had the motive, the inside knowledge and the antagonism to commit the crime. With husband deceased, and a background of being abroad, for Cora, the companion is a sort of nearest one. She'd know that, and know she has to spread the suspicion net wide. The nature of the killing makes it look like an outsider job. One of those rough villains you read about in newspapers. Remembering that the usual rouse of the cunning murderer - that of making the murder seem like it were connected with a theft - would not really occur to SPOILER Miss Gilchrist because she is, of course, in fact,  trying to commit a theft, so subconsciously, she wouldn't want too much of the theft idea to be in her thoughts or those of others..
  • Maybe SPOILER Miss Gilchrist want it to look like a paid hit man. I think the poisoned cake is another subconscious thing, having it coming in from outside. She is trying to make the source of the trouble look like it is over there, somewhere else, not connected to what is there in her home. She probably thought the comment about Richard's having been murdered might not have been sufficient to pin the suspicion elsewhere, so she was doing other stuff too. 
  • I have just found something really interesting at the end of Chapter 3 in After the Funeral. Before Cora is known to have been killed, and with the action set in a buffet at Swindon, 'Cora' is pondering various things and thinking and remarking in  her head on her tea, the quality of the buns, the quality of the tea, the food at Enderby which seemed the of the kind she didn't often get - remembering rationing may still have been in place then: the novel was published in 1953, but maybe set in 1950, when it was conceived. The syntax and comments are those of a companion, not used to the finest quality foods, but interested in food - especially tea-time food. The family members are criticized as hypocrites in an outsider kind of tone.

     We the readers don't spot this at the time - we should do, these are not the observations of one who has chosen to live amongst stronger passions and intense colours, flowing wine, strong sunshine which makes you doze and forget the detail of sustenance.

     I still can't remember what that term is for when a third person narrative uses element of the first person in the choice of grammatical features used for the telling of a section about a particular person, and slipping into their words.

    By the way GCKFan and Tuppence, there are two current threads about the same book, so it might be a good idea to amalgamate them.

  • Griselda: " I still can't remember what that term is for when a third person narrative uses element of the first person in the choice of grammatical features used for the telling of a section about a particular person, and slipping into their words."

    I believe the term is free indirect discourse. It is a fancy way of describing situations in a book when the thoughts/feelings of an individual character is melded with the narrator's voice so one cannot tell whose opinion is actually being expressed.

    One example of free indirect discourse is the description of Lady Russell's opinions of Anne Elliot's engagement to Captain Wentworth in Jane Austen's Persuasion. Here the narrator's and Lady Russell's individual voices blur together: "Anne Elliot, so young; known to so few, to be snatched off by a stranger without alliance or fortune; or rather sunk by him into a state of most wearing, anxious, youth-killing dependence! It must not be, if by any fair interference of friendship, any representations from one who had almost a mother's love and mother's rights, it could be prevented."

  • Thanks for this! i remember now - indirect discourse. I will have to look to see where else AC uses it.
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