--Ariadne Oliver in Third Girl (1966)
Third Girl traditionally has not been much esteemed by critics. In his book Adventure, Mystery and Romance John G. Cawelti cites Third Girl as an example of one of Christie "artistic failures," and Robert Barnard, in his generally quite favorable Christie monograph A Talent to Deceive, dismisses the novel as "one of Christie's most embarrassing attempts to haul herself abreast of the swinging 'sixties."
More recently, however, Laura Thompson in her 2007 biography of Christie praises Third Girl, declaring that the sixties milieu is "utterly convincing." Where do I stand on this one? When I first read Third Girl when I was about twelve or so I must admit I thought it was one of the "boring" Christies. I didn't pay much attention to publishing dates at the time, but I now realize that I thought most of the later Christies, from 1965 (At Bertram's Hotel) onward, were pretty boring. Rereading some of them now, I am finding them of greater interest.
|girls one and two|
Of these novels, the last title was actually written by Christie during the Second World War, and Poirot plays a recessive role in both Cat and Clocks. (In both of those latter novels I believe he is writing a book on detective fiction, which he has finally finished in Third Girl.)
When Hercule Poirot popped up in Third Girl, it was his first fully active performance since Dead Man's Folly was published a decade earlier. Contemporary reviews of the novel, Cawelti and Barnard notwithstanding, were favorable For example, Anthony Boucher thought the plot "only moderately good Christie," but lavished praise on Poirot and his mystery writer sidekick Ariadne Oliver and the author's "acute sense of the immediate contemporary scene."
I think one can appreciate why critics were positive: it's nice to have Poirot back in a truly active capacity, even if he does rely extensively on subordinate investigations by a Mr. Goby, who appears on occasion in Poirot novels. The brilliant Belgian sleuth is in his environment, with manservant George, the ever-efficient Miss Lemon, endearingly scatty Mrs. Oliver, his magnificent vanity and moral force, his tisane, his sirop de cassis, his chocolate, etc.--it's a warm bath of authentic Christie nostalgia, something I most definitely missed in Sophie Hannah's ballyhooed Poirot continuation novel, The Monogram Murders.
|the third girl|
The plot itself employs time-tested Christie devices and deceptions in an enjoyable manner, if not quite as smoothly as in the past. Aspects of the plot, though clever, take a bit of swallowing and the resolution of two of the characters' fates felt forced.
While there are not actually all that many scenes devoted to swinging 'sixties London in Third Girl, I didn't find Christie's portrayal of this milieu "ridiculous" like Robert Barnard did. (To be sure, Christie does drop drug references with abandon: Purple Hearts, Dream Bombs, coke, snow, hash, etc.)
The basic idea of the "third girl" works beautifully, I think, Christie having alertly caught onto and cleverly employed a phenomenon of modern English life. (It's a shame the television adaptation moved the time period back to the Thirties.) I was fascinated with Borodene Mansions, the London block of flats where the three girls live, which Christie likens in appearance to the prison Wormwood Scrubs; and I noted the harlequin wallpaper in their flat, captured on the Pocket paperback cover illustrated above. Christie was always fascinated by the Harlequin motif.
All in all, Third Girl is a worthy addition to the Poirot canon. If the novel doesn't make it to home base, it certainly hits a double, or, dare I say...a triple?
|not Borodene Mansions|
Postscript: In Third Girl there's a marvelous instance of the "odd" English terms to which Christie books used to introduce me, a young American reader. Mrs. Oliver, in one of the novel's unlikely coincidences, happens upon Norma Restarick and David Baker in a cafe called The Merry Shamrock. The two are eating beans and toast, which always sounded singularly unappealing to me as a lad. Is it really as simple as canned baked beans on toast with Worcestershire sauce on top? I'm afraid my reaction, if actually presented with this dish, might be rather like that of these Americans:
Americans try Beans on Toast (Caution: Humor!)
This recipe, now, looks pretty good!
British-style Beans on Toast
I realise that I'm reviewing the postscript rather than the main review, but....ReplyDelete
The whole point of beans on toast is that it's a cheap, quick, warm snack. You grill the bread until it's nice and brown, butter it enthusiastically, slice the pieces in half and arrange them around the side of the plate, heat the beans and then pour them into the bare bit in the centre of the plate. You eat it whilst it's still hot, preferrably whilst drinking a nice, hot mug of tea. That piece on Youtube seemed to be designed to say 'Oh, those weird Brits and their funny foods' but the food on display, cold beans on hardly toasted bread with no butter, isn't beans on toast.
Hey, comments, I'm always happy to get them.Delete
The Youtube channel also show Brits reacting with similar disgust to American biscuits and gravy, so the UK gets its culinary revenge!
You think they didn't like beans on toast, though, you should see their reactions to Marmite!
I thought the "British-style Beans on Toast" recipe looked pretty nifty, but then you have to cook the beans like five hours, so I'm kind of skeptical how faithful this is to the original idea.
No matter, learning about these things was one of the incidental pleasures for a young american reading Christie!
By the way, Welsh Rarebit now, I am most definitely a fan! Of course I am named Evans.Delete
Nothing wrong with beans on toast, assuming they are both hot and you can add Worcester and Tabasco sauce. Cheap, easy and great comfort food.ReplyDelete
I have always rather liked Third Girl despite some clunkiness in the plot. Despite what some critics say Christie did catch certain aspects of the sixties quite well - the whole concept of the third girl is of that period - and if some of the description of swinging London is odd that is because it is written from the point of view of two people, Poirot and Mrs Oliver who cannot understand it. The Peacock is a great creation. I remember seeing these magical beings.
Well, Tabasco helps anything!Delete
Yes, I think Barnard was kind of hard on this one.
I like the way Poirot and Mrs Oliver's comments on the passing scene are so specific. Why doesn't Norma make something of herself? It was a shock for ladies like Mrs Oliver, who had always had their hair "done", to see girls who just let their hair grow and barely even brushed it. (I was one of them.) Christie always has fun with Mrs Oliver's disguises - you just do your hair differently and wear your reading glasses! (See those mockups in the papers after her disappearance.) But then it is a novel about appearance, and disguise...ReplyDelete
Beans on toast: the beans (canned, heated) usually go ON the toast. You then add a swirl of BROWN sauce, not Worcestershire. (There isn't a hipster gourmet baked-bean café yet, but give it time.)
I loved the stuff about women hairstyles (or lack of them)in this book.Delete
That recipe I linked looks pretty hipsterish to me!
Interesting post. Haven't read this book and won't for a while (reading them in order) but I look forward to it.ReplyDelete
I am American, and way past 45, and I am sure that I watched That Girl, but the title brings back no memories. Well, I was in college in those years, so maybe not so much access to a TV in the dorm.
The theme song goes, "Diamonds, daisies, snowflakes, THAT GIRL!" I have no idea what it means. I only ever saw this series in syndication, but I was never able to get that damn theme song out of my head, like the one for The Patty Duke Show: "Our Patty loves to rock and roll, a hot dog makes her lose control!" I do miss goofy sixties theme songs.Delete
But, anyway, Marlo's character was supposed to be this young single girl, an aspiring actress, living in NYC.
I didn't like Third Girl when I first read it in the 1970s, I was disappointed in its picture of the 60s. But now I like it much more, and find it a very good picture of the era. I don't know what that means. Baked beans: you have to buy the proper Heinz can, and heat them up. You can get them in British import shops. When I first moved to the USA I couldn't believe they weren't sold in supermarkets, I had always assumed they were an American food item.ReplyDelete
It's just one of those things that never caught on here, beans on toast I mean Like the girl said, we eat toast and we eat beans, but we don't eat beans on toast. We eat lots of other things on toast. People used to like creamed chipped beef on toast, or maybe not, in the army it was called S. O. S., for shit on a shingle.Delete
I first read Third Girl around 1979 when I was about 12 or 13 and I can't recall having much of any reaction to the setting, except a general sense that it didn't seem like "authentic Poirot." I didn't really like any of the books she wrote after A Caribbean Mystery. Well, I thought Nemesis was okay and was impressed by the ending of Endless Night.
I last read this one in 2011 (when I was still getting my bearings in the blogging/reviewing world). It is one of the "medium" Christie books for me--meaning that I gave it a three-star rating out of five. So, I found it enjoyable enough, but nothing special. I find it interesting when you mention that when you first read it you found it, along with At Bertram's Hotel, to be one of the "boring" Christies. I mentioned in my Tuesday Club offering that Bertram's is one of the very few Christie novels that I've never reread--that one didn't go down very well with me as an elementary-aged reader. I'm thinking I need to revisit that one--but I'm also trying to decide if I want to take on rereading all the books in publication order. If I do, then it's going to be a while before that reread happens.ReplyDelete
Bev, I think it's a case of there being "social history" aspects in the later books that just don't appeal to younger readers, who are all, "get on with the murder!" An adult reader definitely can read Christie differently from an adolescent one.Delete
That's most definitely true.Delete
An adult reader definitely can read Christie differently from an adolescent one.ReplyDelete
That's one of the reasons her books have lasted. They can be re-read. The first time you notice the plot. The second time you notice the wit, the clever observations of social mores and the economical but effective character sketches. And of course you can just lie back and bask in the glory that is Poirot.
Yeah, I enjoyed all the little touches with Poirot. I had forgotten a lot of the book, so it was definitely a nostalgia trip. I'll have to see but I think he is more memorable here than he is in Hallowe'en Party, certainly Elephants Can Remember.Delete
Third Girl was definitely a low point for me as a teenaged reader, but when I revisited it a few years ago - curiously enough, as an audiobook - I enjoyed it much more. I'm a big fan of Ariadne Oliver, a much better sleuthing companion for Poirot than Hastings because she actually accomplishes something AND she's funny! Her adventures in the streets of London are engaging. I don't want to spoil much, but I do think the discovery of the second body is very well written - quite clever Christie, if I may say alliteratively! I love the scenes you have to read again after you have reached the end. I won't rush back to this one (or to Bertram's Hotel, although I would love to stay at Brown's or the Dorchester....anyone have an extra 10,000 pounds?), but I will definitely revisit again.ReplyDelete
Yes, I like Ariadne Oliver, her enthusiasm is infectious and her comments on the mystery-writing profession enjoyable. I meant to quote some of those.Delete
I think the late scene with the body discovery is well-managed, it shows Christie's knack for story-telling and the grand reveal. I just thought the very last pages, with the resolution for the two characters, kind of forced. But it allowed Poirot to act as the old magician again, in all respects.
Oh, and I LOVED That Girl!!! ("She's quite alone but luckily for you....if you want a girl to love...only one girl to love, then you'll need That Girl, too!) I can sing most of those sixties theme songs with you, Curt!ReplyDelete
Thank you. I knew I couldn't be alone in this. I think I used to watch That Girl in syndication in the 1970s. That tine immediately popped into my head when I read Third Girl I was very proud of my alliteration with that title!Delete
Is the blonde girl on the second cover down supposed to be Julie Christie? If this is an early paperback version, then it is understandable, as she was one of the faces of the '60s. The novel's quite enjoyable, and I've never felt that Agatha Chrisite's attempt to evoke the '60s is particularly risible. Once you get a certain distance in time from the book it's hard to say what is right or wrong. It's all in the past, isn't it?ReplyDelete
I think that's true, people like Robert Barnard, who were young adults in the Sixties, may have been more prone to mock their elders over this.Delete
I think you are dead-on about Julie Christie. This cover was 1972, by Tom Adams. I thought that myself but was wanting to see whether anyone else noticed the strong resemblance. I wonder if the other two "girls" were supposed to resemble actresses?
Come to think of, you might say the cover was a "Christie" in two ways!Delete