The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Andy says SPOILERSDecember 18, 2013
I was going to try to write this blog without spoilers, but come on. If you’ve read it and you’ve tried to write about it – how could you not? So.
If you haven’t read this book but you think you might like to, at some point, stop reading now.
Wait – did you hear me? I said now.
I loved Agatha Christie as a teenager, possibly even earlier. I’m pretty sure Ten Little Niggers (NIGGERS!) was the first of her books I read, and I read plenty of others although I can’t remember many of them – The Man in the Brown Suit, Curtain, Murder in the Mews, Murder on the Orient Express, plenty of others. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd has long been regarded as her masterpiece and yet it was one I never got around to. I bought it a few years ago for a couple of bucks (and later found a copy of Ten Little Niggers – NIGGERS! – that was still called Ten Little Niggers as opposed to And Then There Were None, or whatever it’s published as these days, and bought it immediately) and the past few weeks I finally got around to reading it.
And it is good. It’s not perfect, but on enough levels it’s good. Good enough to make me think I might need to revisit my Agatha addiction.
So it occurred to me very early on that the narrator, Dr James Sheppard, might be the killer. (If you’re still reading and you haven’t read it and now you’re annoyed because I’ve given away the ending YOU ARE A FUCKING MORON.) In hindsight, and of course we all love hindsight, it’s pretty obvious. But I can understand why it was so controverial and so revolutionary at the time. Unreliable narrators are all very well in literary fiction, but in popular fiction…. Whaaaat? And to be honest even now, almost a century after the book was written, as I toyed with the idea that the narrator might be the killer I thought “Nah, she wasn’t up for anytrhing that clever.”
This from the guy who loved Ten Little Niggers as a kid. Seriously, how clever can a piece of popular detective fiction get?
Although I have to admit that the writing in Niggers is a bit rougher, I think. I’ve flicked through it a few times and Roger seems much more polished. Perhaps, 13 years after the publication of her masterpiece, she didn’t feel the need to revise too much.
Christie’s decision to make the narrator – and Poirot’s stand-in sidekick – the killer has resulted in certain dills referring to this as metafictive and post-modern. Christie was educated and intelligent but I doubt, in 1926, she’d have been too familiar with the modernism of Woolf and Joyce, let alone the post-modernism that was the follow. Using the conventions of storytelling against a reader (or listener) does not make you post-modern, or meta, it just makes you – assuming you do it well – a good storyteller.
Christie was, allegedly, notoriously sexist and homophobic and elitist. Perhaps she was. But the few whiffs you get of such things reading Ackroyd seem deliberately ironic. There is a “Semitic” reference which to me seemed supedrfluois and probably nasty, but apart from that when prejudice is referenced it seems to be referenced pretty slightingly to me, certainly in terms of women and class. There are a few points at which she seems to be hinting at homoeroticism, but given I’m a poof that’s probably just me reading shit in.
I did a bit of research after finishing the book and one of the curious things I found is that apparently Caroline Sheppard – the narrator’s sister – is regarded by many readers as the most interesting character in the book. She’s hugely popular with readers. They love her. DA FUCK? Caroline annoyed the shit out of me. She was, according to some theories, the basis for Miss Marp[le. That might explain why Miss Marple annoys the shit out of me, too.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is not entirely convincing. There are one or two holes that doubtless fans will tell me would be plugged if I re-read. But even given what I suspect are discrepancies this was immensely enjoyable. Is it literature? What is literature? A lot of what passes for popular literature is rubbish. This isn’t rubbish. This is worth reading. Read it.
Or maybe Ten Little Niggers. NIGGERS!