Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Agatha Christie's "Five Little Pigs":
Worst Title for Best Novel

[Photo collage of images from the BBC series Poirot, Y2K, Five Little Pigs. Screenplay Kevin Elyot; Director, Paul Unwin.]
"Texture" is the quality that I missed when I picked up some Agatha Christie after a couple years' work with Henry James.  It was like drinking Kool-Aid after Cognac.

But in Five Little Pigs, Christie layers her crime story.  The story concerns a grown daughter hiring Poirot to clear the reputation of her mother Caroline, executed seventeen years earlier for the murder of her artist husband Amyas.  Caroline supposedly poisoned Amyas in the act of painting a portrait of his young mistress, and offered little defense of herself at the trial.  Time itself adds layers to the story. Then the five suspects'  "written" accounts expand and color our view of the fatal event; observations on art and class clash; and we see the dynamics of family and old friends.

I've read recently that Christie was a faithful Anglican, something I never would have suspected; but I do see in her novel that sin is its own punishment, where Poirot observes that the guilty party died with the victim. (Cf. my article What Mr. Suchet Saw: Christ in Agatha Christie. )

The title has nothing to do with the story beyond the number of suspects.  Yes, Poirot thinks, "This one had roast beef," but damned if I can figure out what that and other references to the nursery rhyme have to do with any character.

The memoir Poirot and Me by actor David Suchet put me onto this novel. He calls it one of Christie's best, and tells how the intensity of the actors in supporting parts "upped" his "game" in the role he had played several seasons by then.

The video production misses the themes of art, obsession, and modernist morality so prevalent in the novel, but it uses montages to make more clear than the novel does how tight-knit are the friendships and family ties.

Having read the novel and now seen the dramatization, I'm a fan.  But any title -- even the abstraction "Murder in Retrospect" used for the first American printing -- would be preferable.

Considering the art theme and the solution, it might be called, "Framed."

[Photo:  A moment of truth for the characters, and also for actors Rachael Stirling ("Caroline Crale") and Aidan Gillen ("Amyas Crale"):  Knowing the end of the story, we can read back into their faces exactly what was happening at the site of the murder.]

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