Agatha Christie is one of the most famous and popular authors of the last hundred years. While she’s best known for her detective novels, she also wrote short stories and plays for the stage. Readers’ thirst for a good “who-done-it” has not diminished in the current times.
Many people also know that she lived her OWN private mystery in 1926 when she stepped out of her life and disappeared for 11 days. The double blow of her mother’s death and her husband Archie’s affair and request for divorce after 12 years of marriage appeared to be the trigger for her actions.
To my knowledge, she never discussed this episode, and it’s still unknown exactly where she went and what she did. A massive search was launched, and she was finally recognized at a Yorkshire hotel registered under the surname of Archie’s mistress. Today we’d say she needed time and privacy to process the two major life blows that turned her life upside down.
Agatha acquired her particular gifts in her childhood years, which were spent mostly as a solitary child. She learned to read at 4, loved to read, play pretend, and play with animals. While her early years may not be considered ideal by some standards, it certainly honed her skills in preparation for her adult profession.
Readers should keep in mind that WWI was expected to last perhaps six months. However, it lasted four years with horrific results. Many who survived were injured for life, sometimes mentally, and often from mustard gas. In 1926, the presence of wounded veterans reminded people of the war on a daily basis. The war’s end was followed by the Spanish flu epidemic which claimed still more victims.
While much of what we know about Agatha is publicly available, de Gramont has used fiction to fill in the gaps in her life during this time. She has given readers a plausible itinerary for Agatha and does indeed have her settle in a Yorkshire hotel registered under the fictional mistress’s surname. The characters and events in the hotel are the author’s creations. It’s wise to read about them carefully—they appear later in surprising ways.
The key character in the book is that of the mistress, Nan O’Dea, who also leaves town after Agatha disappears. Nan was born to an English mother and Irish father who raised her in England with vacations spent with the Irish relatives. (Readers will remember that Irish/English relations were not good at that time, with the Irish being regarded as inferior by the English, often working in service.)
On her Irish vacations, she met a neighbor boy, Finbarr. They fell deeply in love and planned to marry at the end of the war. Fate and illness intervened, however, leaving Nan pregnant with her only option being to seek shelter in a home for unwed mothers.
Many readers may know about these homes of that time, generally run by nuns. Shame, sometimes brutal treatment, and hard work abounded. Women who’d been abused or raped by employers were given no treatment or understanding that they were not to blame.
In some of those homes, the children born there would be available for adoption, with mothers not always knowing where those children went. The author spends a fair amount of the book on this topic & Nan’s experiences at the home. While it is pertinent to the full story, readers should be aware that they may find these descriptions disturbing.
Nan’s story progresses through the time of Agatha’s disappearance, and Agatha’s progresses through the 11 days. We meet the people with whom she interacts, what she does with them, and how it helps her.
We also learn that Nan foregoes being with the man she truly loves for one love that is greater even than theirs. She remakes herself into the person who will be near that love…and it’s not Archie, although they marry.
This is where I will tell no more–I won’t be a spoiler, but rather quote a minor character in the book: “Nothing in life unfolds the way you think it will.” [p. 191].
The author has divided this book into 3 parts. When I finished Part 2, I was a bit doubtful if I wanted to finish it. But I did, and so happy I did! I read several reader reviews that mentioned the same feeling. All, including me, said they couldn’t put down the book as they read Part 3 where “all is revealed.” I admit to an audible gasp at one of the revelations. I did not see that coming.
In real life: after her divorce from Archie Christie, Agatha began to travel. She also met and married an archeologist, a long marriage that lasted until her death. Her books began to be set in places where they visited or he worked, and other places like the famous Orient Express. Her imagination was portable, and she used it freely, enriching us all.
This book will be available at Grover Beach Community Library.