Overall, I enjoyed this one, but I will admit that I was also disappointed by it. I love Agatha Christie, both as a writer and as a historical figure, and her infamous real life disappearance of course fascinates me (as it has many people before me). She never spoke publicly about the eleven days she was missing afterwards, not even in her autobiography, so it’s a mystery history will never solve. It was extremely intriguing, to say the least, that Marie Benedict wanted to offer up an explanation. The results for me were mixed, though.
Most of my thoughts are spoilery, but here’s what I can say. I think it was a bit of a mistake for the author to try to write in the first person POV from Ms. Christie, to assume the voice of such a significant historical figure. Half the book is flashbacks from her POV, first person, telling of how she met her first husband, Archie, and leading up to their eventual messy separation just days before Ms. Christie went missing. The other half of the book takes place in Archie’s POV, close third person, as he deals with the fallout from her disappearance. For most of the book, those sections were much more engaging to me because I wasn’t distracted by the POV and the voice that Benedict choice to use for her subject. Also, it was great seeing him flop around trying to navigate what was going on, because he is a total dick and he deserved it.
Before I get to my spoilery thoughts, I do want to say that this book does quite a lot of things right, and I’m sure a lot of my disappointment is coming from my ridiculously high expectations. As mentioned previously, the Archie sections were great. The combo of her villainous soon to be ex-husband and the mystery of the disappearance work great together. I also liked the Agatha sections more and more as we got closer to catching up with the present day, towards her disappearance. It’s clear the author did a butt-ton of research, reading Ms. Christie’s letters to get her voice correct (even though it still bothered me, but more on that in the spoiler section), and making sure historical events and people were at the right place in the right time. I also loved the insight into the personal life of one of my favorite authors.
So here is where I spoil the ending. SPOILERS What bugged me specifically about the Agatha POV sections, and I didn’t want to mention it in the non-spoiler section because of potential expectations it would set up, is that Agatha for most of the POV we see from her seems so much like a doormat! She’s wispy and soft and beholden to her husband. She’s extremely vulnerable and goes out of her way to detail the state of her emotions, which are wrecked by her husband’s behavior. She was utterly unrecognizable to me as the strong, confident, extremely clever woman I had pictured previously (although there were glimmers). This really messed with me for most of the book.
But then! At the end you find out that her POV sections were actually written by Agatha the character and left in the form of a manuscript for Archie to read, which was specifically written and constructed as a threat to hold over Archie to get what she wanted in the divorce. In short, she manipulates the shit out of him, and as a result, we learn that the only real Agatha we see the whole novel is at the end when she confronts him. Everything in “The Manuscript” is suspect, and unreliable because it is not a true narrative, but in fact a weapon.
This twist is very Agatha Christie, and I think the author ends up pulling it off, but I can’t help but remain frustrated that, a) you really have to read the book twice to get the full effect, and b) that Ms. Christie remains so aloof as a character, when what I wanted from the experience was to be let in as an insider, and not tricked along with her arsehole husband. So: conflicted END SPOILERS.
I would recommend this book, but you really have to get to the end, or the whole thing is pointless. No DNFing! Just resist! Also, don’t go in expecting or wanting your socks to be blown off or anything and I think you will have a good time. I may round up to four stars in the future if I re-read. I do own it in hardcover.