CBR14 BINGO: Elephant, because it’s right there in the name
Agatha Christie, why can’t I quit you? Even though I realized in recent years that Christie’s writing was not the great literature I thought it was when I was 12 years old, I still find comfort in the familiar characters and, dang it, even if she doesn’t give you much in the way of character development and dialogue, her mysteries are always surprising, right?
It pains me to say this about one of my childhood heroes, but Christie’s 1972 novel Elephants Can Remember is just not very good. Before I go into what I didn’t like, am I the only one who is thoroughly shocked by the realization that Christie was still writing in 1972? Maybe I should cut her some slack since she was 82 when she wrote this one. Part of me just can’t fathom that she wrote anything after 1940, though. At one point in this novel a character is looking for her address book from 1969, and I stared at the page in confusion for a few minutes thinking, “When did Agatha Christie write science fiction?”
My confusion about the time frame aside, this novel reads like a short story that was padded up for publication. It features Ariadne Oliver, a mystery novelist who is a friend of Hercule Poirot. Apparently Mrs. Oliver appears in six Poirot novels, but this was the first time (in my memory) that I encountered her. Mrs. Oliver is approached by a bossy woman named Mrs. Burton-Cox who asks about Oliver’s goddaughter Celia. It takes a bit of thinking for Mrs. Oliver to place Celia, because apparently in England everybody has 20 or 30 godchildren and it’s easy to mix them up. Or Mrs. Oliver is just a flake, which we can’t rule out.
Anyway, Celia is set to marry bossy lady’s son and bossy lady wants to know about an incident from Celia’s pasts. You see, Celia’s parents were both found shot 12 or 14 years earlier (seems like we should be able to pinpoint the date of this tragedy, but Mrs. Oliver never can be bothered to get it straight during the course of the novel). Mrs. Burton-Cox wants to know what was up with the parents–was it a double murder, murder-suicide, suicide pact? She wants the detes.
Mrs. Oliver consulters her friend Poirot, who tells her she really ought to just let it alone, but since she won’t he agrees to help her by speaking to the police who handled the case and looking for clues. For her part, Mrs. Oliver decides to contact the “elephants.” This is her shorthand for people involved in the case who might remember something because, you see, elephants never forget. Now as a title, that’s clever enough, but the number of times she brings up elephants is maddening. One shouldn’t read Agatha Christie expecting snappy dialogue, but my goodness, the drivel in this book. The most mundane conversations are recorded, such as “You have arrived here. You had no difficulty finding it?” “None at all. Your instructions were most adequate.” “Let me introduce you now.”
I mean, what a waste of typewriter ribbon.
Banal conversations aside, what else is wrong with the novel? Well, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I’ll say this: Celia’s mother had a twin sister and an excessive number of wigs. Quite a big deal is made about the wigs and about the sister. That doesn’t give you the entire solution, but it should at least set you firmly down the path. I have to wonder what kind of police work was even going on in 1958 or 1960, or whenever this tragedy occurred.
Sadly this was not a great reading experience for me, but I’m still not ready to quit Christie. Maybe I should go back and revisit all of her pre-1940 novels.