Is Ariadne Oliver similar to Agatha Christie?



  • @taliavishay-arbel - I think you have expressed it very well.  Mrs. Oliver is a fictional character, and the efforts of many readers to interpret her as Agatha Christie don't make much sense to me at all.  Using a mystery writer as a detective makes sense, as she has written about many types of detectives in her work, but it also presents the chance for some metafictional elements to be added.  Naturally Agatha Christie might want to comment on these themes but was reluctant to do so in other ways publicly.

    Also, Christie was modest and humble, which is evident in her memoir.  It seems unlikely that, if she were to represent herself in her work, she would do so with an egocentric character.  In addition, Mrs. Oliver is a foil to Hercule Poirot, which is something we don't hear discussed.  It would explain much about why she was written as she was.

    The two discussions that just won't die (other than casting of roles in adaptations) are Agatha Christie as Mrs. Oliver and Agatha Christie's disappearance.  It's baffling that these threads are always started as seemingly original ideas, also.  As if we've never encountered them before.
  • edited August 2016
    I would much rather discuss Agatha Christie and Mrs. Oliver than Agatha Christie's disappearance. When someone gets on that topic I would much rather not talk about it. I rather talk about Agatha Christie's books and her characters and make observations on that. Her disappearance is just too personal and we're never going to know what went through her mind and heart at that tragic period in her life. I know if I went through a bad period in my life, I would not like other people mucking it up. But discussing new topics would be great just as well 
  • I agree with you, @ChristieFanForLife about her disappearance.  The answer is that it's nobody's business.  What part of that do people fail to understand?  I personally couldn't care less about it.  
  • I think AC herself taught us how to treat her disappearance - in her autobiography she simply ignored it. We should respect that.
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    So AC didn't mention either Ariadne Oliver or her disappearance in her Autobiography. She was a private person who didn"t like to discuss certain personal subjects. Is it then safe to conclude that the answer to the question that started this thread is a "YESS!" ??.
  • I know that Agatha Christie considered herself an entertainer and just simply wanted us to be entertained by her books but I wonder if she would have liked her fans to put her books up, use our magnify glass and examine them by discussing them in detail too? 
  • I'd say yes and no. We are celebrating her achievement in our own way. Posters are being as analytical as it suits them personally to be. On the Agatha Christie site on Facebook, some people will say they really like a novel, and that is enough for them, and what else they like on their page will contribute to the impression given to others  of what it is about the novel in question which they admire. You get a feel when reading their page about what means authenticity and quality for them. Others want to express their admiration by saying why they admire the books. That is their way and how they connect with the art which they admire.

     I suppose that if you are very clever, you get used to the fact that other people may not feel the vibe of what you are doing. It must grate sometimes when other people seek to define you and your art, and what they say doesn't resonate. I can see traces of this attitude in some of Aridadne Oliver's responses to being asked how she goes about writing (e.g. in Dead Man's Folly she complains about this, and how she never knows how to answer those sorts of questions from her audience who attend the talks which she has been asked to give.) 
  • As one who writes and feels at times a sense of inadequacy when I look at my writing, whether it a rough or final draft, I wonder if Agatha Christie ever felt the same. I wonder if she ever took a look at her work after a rough draft or even the final copy and thought that the writing and the story was okay, but not the best in her opinion? Did she ever had the sense of being a little dissatisfied with a story yet sent it out to the publisher anyways? I wonder how much editing went into her rough drafts before she finally made it to the final copy. As someone who writes, this is interesting to know.
  • Agatha Christie, I have been told by other forum members, was dissatisfied with The Blue Train, at first, but grew to accept it. She wrote it at a low point in her life. 

    It is my personal theory that Agatha Christie did sense a truth about human nature, as Shakespeare did, e.g. with the nature of a certain type of jealousy (Othello) and the power of supernatural suggestion (Macbeth), and she and Shakespeare revealed that truth. If she got that truth on the page, I think that she would be happy. For me, the difference between genius and high intelligence is that genius will encompass an understanding in one take: the whole thing as a composite. As it is with great musical composers, it is not really the chords, or the tune or the lyrics, it is the whole thing which captures its own truth. When forum members have written about the atmosphere Agatha Christie creates, I wonder if it is this atmosphere which is how the truth and genius makes itself known. A great song or piece of music, if it is truly great, has a sort of atmosphere. I think to go back to the question, Christie would have known that she had realised on the page what she had seen in life, and her imagination would have just written it down without the labour. She would have laboured at the plot, but, now I've seen the way that the troupes work, I can see how she could have done this to a formula, as some people solve crossword puzzles (knowing 'tar' stands for sailor, etc). She'd work on the puzzle once she'd got her central message.  If she had achieved that truth, which I always think is the central premise of each novel, then she would I think be satisfied. Even if the peripheral  characterisation is not as good as it could be, I think it rarely stops the reader being moved by the books she wrote. She usually has the essential there. I think the only really weak novels came at the end of Agatha Christie's writing career, when she was not understanding life around her as well as she had used to. Or else, when she didn't connect with her novel as she did when she was focusing on human nature. I think the spy capers, The Big Four, etc, are poor.
  • I am posting this information here, as people are active here, but it is not quite the right place. I googled the Exeter University conference on Agatha Christie which Dr Sheppard had told us about. Under some comments, it says that the proceedings of the first conference which had been held in 2014 have now been published in the US under the title: 'The Ageless Agatha Christie: Essays on the Mysteries and the Legacy'. Someone who had posted a question said they had noticed that they could get it on Amazon. Apologies if everybody knows about this already.
  • Griselda, which Agatha Christie books towards the end of her writing career do you think were her strongly written ones? 
  • I think that Endless Night offers a good attempt at getting into the mind of a sociopath. It isn't a very easy thing to do because, we are told, they are wired up so differently to the rest of us. The understanding of the era - late 60s - when rich girls married attractive working class lad - is well done. Christie creates a sense of a decaying social order: big old houses been sold for next to nothing. As always, the dialogue carries that impression so very effectively. The dialogue in Christie's novels always suggests more about the times than is expected. It is not just functional dialogue. The lawyers surrounding Ellie - I think they are well done: I think that their disapproval of her partner is suggested well, and it is as it would have been in those times. The whole feel of the times is well-suggested. If it hadn't been first person, the idea of the watch and the frozen lake, and the mother's attitude - strange at first - these features would have been powerful, and we would always have remembered the book. Perhaps it would have been more popular if she had written it in the third person. The gypsy motif is very strong, also, and quite interesting. The treatment of the supernatural is slightly different to what we saw in earlier novels. It is being thoroughly debunked, I feel. 

    Because it is a difficult book, I thought thought ITV didn't do a bad job with their dramatisation of it a couple of Christmases ago. The male lead was superb, and I'm sure he'll be asked to play similar roles in future. It probably made it better to put Miss Marple in it, and Julia McKenzie was very sensitive and insightful in her interpretation of a part which, after all, was not even in the novel.  

    Postern of Fate and Elephants Can Remember are really poor, sadly. I don't like Third Girl: I feel Christie doesn't understand that generation and situation. At Bertram's Hotel has a lot of quality in parts, but overall, it lacks cohesion or pace, or something. Some of the episodes, such as Elvira visiting her lawyer, are rather laboured and the characters repeat the same message over and again. ('You are inherit a lot. It is natural at your age thata you should want some nice things, and to know how rich you are.') Here, I think Christie has a good central premise, sort of, but she doesn't quite grasp the truth of life. The younger generation present differently to their mothers, but it is not necessarily because they are introverting all the mad energy their upper class mothers showed, it could just be about mannerisms. I don't think she quite gets Elvira. It is certainly a novel about the world changing, especially for Agatha Christie, I feel. There is a lot of Christie the person in the novel, I feel: her enjoyment of buttered muffins and comfortable hotels, and for this reason it is an enjoyable read. The whole vicar stuff is ridiculous. Criminals wouldn't have look alikes go a parade around the scene of a recent crime. It's a bit wacky that idea. There is too much going on in the novel. Pricking of My Thumbs was a bit nothingy, and ITV did it well, I thought. I could watch the ITV version again and again. Julia McKenzie was sensitive. The acting and cast were great. Leslie Phillips, June Whitfield, the American GI: all very nicely done and set.
  • edited August 2016
    How did you feel about Nemesis? I'm reading that right now. I like the plot--it's very unique. 

    I'll speak more on Endless Night in a bit.
  • edited August 2016
    Endless Night would fit in nicely with today's crime fiction since the genre has somewhat shifted gears in the realms of the psychological. From John Curran's Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks he said, "In an interview for The Times in the month following publication Christie admitted, 'it's rather different from anything I've done before - more serious, a tragedy really. In some families one child seems born to go wrong."

    In another post we talked about P.D. James criticizing Agatha Christie for her "puzzles" and how in her world the murders are clean, not bloody and the characters are not in-depth .....but if she ever read Endless Night I don't think those claims hold water because Endless Night is not a typical Poirot or Miss Marple whodunit. She doesn't play safe. Again I reference to Curran because I agree with a lot that he says: 'While The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd is a whodunit, however, Endless Night is more decidedly not . . . . it is thus utterly unlike anything that Agatha Christie had written before. I hear so many times how her talent was restricted but Endless Night shows that she can experiment with something new and do it successfully. Anyways, Endless Night is a psychological suspense story where she gives us a look into the mind of a character and she does this in first-person point-of-view. Agatha Christie COULD write dark psychological stories just like P.D. James and Ruth Rendell; she could write them along with the very best. Agatha Christie wasn't just a mystery, whodunit writer, though a mass body of her work is. . . . .and what sets her apart even from these two fellow writers (and don't get me wrong both women were great writers) is that she could pull an ingenious ending that could shock the readers EVEN with a psychological suspense story! --and it wasn't in your typical "gather everyone in the drawing room solution" either. No matter how old Christie got, she never lost the power to shock and to use her imagination to pull tricks that could pull the wool over the reader's eyes. In most psychological mysteries we know who the killer is but in Endless Night we don't know until the end. Agatha Christie pulled off an ingenious story - wrote it in a way in which we don't know who the killer is, wrote it in a way that is not merely a whodunit leading to a drawing room conclusion, and shocks us with the killer in an ingenious ending --and she made it psychological! 

    If Agatha Christie tried her hand at more of these sorts of stories (and I believe she was heading there - there were some notes for a final unwritten novel that seems to have pointed in that same direction --this is in John Curran's Agatha Christie's Murder In The Making. When A.C. was in her prime she jotted down some points for a new plot then seem to have left it alone -- perhaps even if the idea was totally expanded and ready to be made to a book her publishers probably wouldn't have took it because it was her "whodunits" that they wanted and which sold and you got to remember, again this is in her productive years in her prime when she churned out lots of whodunits --but in her final years she elaborated more on the plot (with extensive notes of course) and I really suggest you buy the book and take a look at them. What a goldmine!. These are some of the jottings she made at first: 

    The experiment Mortimer - How does murder affect the character
    Mortimer - his plan - first killing and so on - his character gradually changes 
    Man (or woman) who experiments in murder (goes queer) 
    Mortimer - experimental murder 

    This seems to fit into the psychological, dark overtones of Endless Night. I think if A.C. lived longer, not only would we have seen more psychological suspense stories but she probably would have experimented more with the genre and her fans could have seen things from it that we never saw before.   

    Many say that Agatha Christie's powers as a writer waned over the years and that is somewhat true - yes they waned but they didn't totally wane. Agatha Christie's originality and imagination of plots were still as great as ever with the likes of Third Girl, Elephants Can Remember, Nemesis and even At Bertram's Hotel BUT the writing in those books wasn't as fully polished as her earlier ones and some of the character's rambling on and on could have been tightened. But Endless Night was back at her heights as the earlier years not only in terms of plot but also the writing. I think if her editors looked at the wordy writing and tightened it and looked through some of the implausible parts in those books they could have been just as good as the earlier ones --different but still good. 
  • @ChristieFanForLife - it seems to me that the style and genre that Agatha Christie was writing within for Endless Night merely mask the weaknesses and "ramblings" that many readers attribute to the later works rather than demonstrate that she was back in her technical element.  One of the weaknesses of the book is the character Santonix and Christie's failure to make him relevant or even interesting in the story.  One gets the impression that she couldn't figure out what to do with him, exactly, and so he serves as a redundant echo of the voice of Michael's mother.  The atmospheric, drugged, dreamlike quality of the narration, however you want to call it, presents the same meandering style that is referred to as "rambling" so often in other books, yet it is not so recognizable here.  Additionally, the book offers less creativity than Postern of Fate, Elephants Can Remember, or the others you mention.  My own opinion is that, with the exception of Endless Night, I enjoy reading her later works and do not agree that she was in such a great decline of her skills.  Much of what readers object to was really just the prevailing trend of the genre in that time, and Christie's longevity can be attributed to her readiness in writing to the changing popular tastes all through her career.
  • Do you think if Agatha Christie was still alive writing books, that she write in cell phones, laptop computers, forensic science, etc into her books? Do you think she would weave in social and ethical issues that are commonly talked about today?   
  • I'm sure she would have done. She wrote about young women flat-sharing, and earning their living - instead of looking for a husband. She noted social changes, and used snatches of dialogue she'd heard 'as a piece' to describe the attitude of the older generation to men with long hair, loosening of social mores, etc (Third Girl, The Mystery of the Christmas Pudding, The Pale Horse). She would have responded, and her natural efficiency would have been charmed by some of the convenient aspects of technology, such as Cloud storage. Her husband would have used technological advances for his digs. She would have had a pithy one-liner about Facebook to the extent of people thinking they are very up to date, but it has been done before. 
  • If Agatha Christie still wrote books I'm sure she would have gave her opinions of technology and the social mores through the mouth of Miss Ariadne Oliver.
  • Yes, I'm sure she would have. She would also have had the views communicated indirectly through her choice of phrases,etc, put in the mouths of those who consult Poirot for advice or professional help - as in The Mystery of the Christmas Pudding.  etc. Miss Marple would have given her views. Strange, nobody wonders, as much, whether Miss Maple is like AC, because I think her views often are, e.g. in At Bertram's Hotel. 
  • I totally agree with that assessment Griselda because At Bertram's Hotel, it's a book about the world and it's surroundings that are currently changing and Bertram's Hotel is a going back into the past --making the hotel an example, showing us what the past encompassed all wrapped within this place -- simplicity, maids and servants, prim and proper manners, etc. She seemed to have been a woman who loved the past and didn't like the extreme changes that came and they seem to have come all too quickly. Even in Christie's autobiography, she goes back into the past and revels in it a lot. Miss Marple then says in At Bertram's Hotel: 
    I learned (what I suppose I really knew already) that one can never go back, that one should not ever try to go back—that the essence of life is going forward. Life is really a One Way Street, isn’t it?
    Agatha Christie seems to be voicing her thoughts through Miss Marple. Christie realizes that she has no choice but to go forward but that didn't mean that she could not reminisce about the past or be outspoken over the changes of the times. She was willing to change with the times and as Madame_Doyle pointed earlier, she did so in her writing. She didn't just kept her stories locked in time of the 40's and 50's -- she wrote beyond those times for her audience and touching on subjects that pertained to the current times.

  • The trope, or whatever it is called, which I don't understand in Elephants Can Remember (or whatever is the title) is the oft-repeated assertion that often someone has made a comment about another person, you can't really remember who it was who informed you; somebody said it first, and then it was passed on, and in the end everyone has forgotten where that information first came from. In my experience, people are very scrupulous about assessing the validity of information before they pass it on. Particularly if the information is about a couple and their private life, or what was going on in their relationship, after one of them has passed away for instance. Nobody likes to be tarnished as a gossip, and most people repeat how they came by information to ensure they are not thought of as a stirrer-upper of trouble. You could argue that people pretend that they can't remember who told them something in order to protect that person's identity. However,  I don't think it cuts it to pretend you can't remember who said something - because,  if it is something that has made you sit up and take notice, you will always recall who had said it to you. In my opinion, too much use of this tedious trope has been used in Dame Agatha's novels (e.g. n Dead Man's Folly) and it does not ring true to life.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I can quite easily sea Miss Marple Books and the Villagey Poirot Books like Mrs McGinty's Dead and After the Funeral being written today, The Chipping Cleghorn Gazette could be  a Parish Magazine and I can see Cherry helping Miss Marple Master the Internet and Mobile Phones not that she would need Cherry's Help, I am sure she could master them herself, a lot of Older people can.
  • I don't think it's impossible not to remember- - improbable, yes. It can happen. Everyone's memories work differently and someone's life can be crammed with so many things and their brains crammed with so many thoughts they can remember the interesting bit of information but can't recall off the tip of their tongue who it came from but they KNOW that it's been said. 
  • @Griselda - I see your point, yet in Christie's novels it's generally just the innocuous bits of information one hears that get passed around and nobody seems to remember who said it to them because nobody cares that much about the news in the first place.  No one is expecting it to be pertinent to a murder investigation.  For example, the blood pressure medicine in Caribbean Mystery.  If someone passed on that riveting information to me about the major, I would probably fail to recollect who told me later, if I even thought of it again in the first place.  It's just another red herring technique that Christie uses to trick us and string us along, and of course you are right that in a real life situation, if we really cared enough about the subject, we might be more prone to question the source and certainly not pass on information we cannot validate (although it would be crass to repeat it even if we were sure of it).  Christie realized how useful the power of suggestion could be to her as a technique to later strip away the reliability of the witnesses and to realistically start leading the detective to the solution.  One of the more difficult tasks in writing crime fiction is to introduce lines of thought that eventually break the case.  
  • For me, the novels are most satisfying when the reader gets to see something happen, and something said at the time. The more the action is set in the past, and the more impressions are reported afterwards, the less engrossing is the plot. I would say that Five Little Pigs suffers somewhat from that state of affairs, as does Elephants Can Remember.  I would also say that novels set in one context and within one tight time-frame are very satisfactory: Evil Under the Sun; Murder at the Vicarage; The Moving Finger. Analysing it, I fee that Agatha Christie engages imaginatively with  the details and ideas of her stories so deeply that she is recalling them each time she adds more writing to them as though she is writing about  real-life events. The sense of time passing is very good, and I can read her novels and feel I'm there in the action. I would say that the same is true of Jane Austen novels: both authors make their work life-like.

     Interesting, Madame Doyle, to understand that you admire the later novels in their own way. I'm very unsure what to make of Postern of Fate. I can't understand what has actually happened, and who the villains are. Certainly, they are not made very real.
  • Two things:  first, it does seem that the books that are more contained in setting and timing are most enjoyable to read.  Death on the Nile is fast paced once the murders occur, although the actions leading up to it are dragged out.  The plot relies on the reader being interested in the love triangle story leading up to the murders.  Other books which contain a crime almost at the beginning and move swiftly are very satisfying.  Lord Edgeware Dies and Pocket Full of Rye are good examples.  Aristotle must have been on to something when he talked about preserving the unities!

    Also, if you look at her style from the beginning to the end of her career, it's interesting to see that the late novels are almost the opposite of the early ones as far as overcorrecting her original faults.  Whereas the novels of the 20's are too cluttered by her tying up loose ends of multiple juggled sub-plots, the last novels contain lingering mysteries and unresolved questions, as you said.  Whatever motivated her in books such as Murder on the Links to be so meticulous and omniscient was gone by Postern of Fate.  I very much enjoy the later novels but wouldn't consider them as her strongest writing.  I just take the good with the bad when it comes to reading her five decades of work.

  • I think that it is nice to hear, as it were, Dame Agatha's voice, and to feel the movement of her imagination, as you can when a great writer is the one in question. I would always prefer a less satisfying Christie than a pastiche, e.g., The Closed Casket, which I won't be reading. I don't really care for Persuasion as a Jane Austen novel, but I still enjoy feeling myself to be in the presence of a great mind.

    We have frequently discussed how we enjoy novels in different ways as we get older and acquire changing perspectives. I think that my view of Postern of Fate will evolve as I age further.
  • edited August 2016
    Murder At The Vicarage (the book) is known to have multiple subplots going on. In every film adaptation the story is simplified. I'm sure if she wrote the book as an older woman there wouldn't be as many subplots BUT the quality of the writing would have suffered. I know that Vicarage was made into a play (not by Christie) but i wonder if the play omitted some of the subplots -- I'm sure it did. Death On The Nile is another one with many subplots but I really don't mind them for it enhances the book and makes it more of an extravaganza and an event. I think if that book was written later in her life it would have suffered alot and it probably wouldn't have been the popular mystery we have today.
  • Persuasion isn't really that great of a novel, to be honest, but it was forced down our throats when Austen gained mainstream popularity in the 1990's.  I agree with you that it still feels like having Austen's companionship even though the story is uninteresting, and the same with Christie, although to your point, it's easier to ignore the Christie books we don't like while we can't afford to do so with Austen's few works.

    Agatha Christie at her worst is still better than PD James on any day.

    You might like Postern of Fate better if you could try appreciating the cleverness of the mystery, which is unlike any others.  It's an original story and not a retelling, as some of them are.  There could have been more suspicion focused on some of the innocent characters.  She missed the chance to be extra clever with the solution, but the unfolding mystery is well executed.

  • @Christiefanforlife - she was just hitting her stride at the time of Murder at the Vicarage and about to write some real whoppers as far as juggling plots masterfully.  Murder on the Orient Express is the best example of a book that could have gotten so out of control, but she handled it skillfully and without a jumbled confusion.  She let the reader suggest the suspicious elements rather than elaborating on them as previously in the 1920's, and she finally stopped including every pertinent fact that wasn't relevant strictly to the solution.  How else could thirteen people all have motives and deceptions without thoroughly confusing the readers?

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