Saturday, 5 June 2010

Book reviews: Agatha Christie and H.G. Wells

Continuing (slowly!) my Book Worm reviews for April and May 2010...

The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells
First published by William Heinemann Ltd, 1898
This edition published by Pan Books Ltd, 1975

I’ve always wanted to read this book ever since I saw the original movie as a child and found it terrifying! And I wasn’t the only one to be scared of this tale, accordingly to radio/newspaper/wiki legend, millions of Americans believed the story to be true when Orson Welles adapted the story to a radio broadcast in 1938.

H.G. Wells wields his scientific knowledge with a skilled hand throughout this book. He also can be rather wordy – the first two pages reveal such beauties as ‘infusoria’, ‘nebular hypothesis’, and ‘attenuated’, not to mention the wonderful ‘periodically inundate its temperate zones’. He also has some marvellous descriptions, such as the sea was ‘navy-crowded’. The book is also very much of its time with the descriptions of wagons, pot-men opening public houses, jobbing gardeners, class. England at the turn of the 20th century was such a different world yet already you can see it changing – the mention of cars, of trains, of commuters… it’s all here, slightly hidden, as the story is not about England’s ascent into the world we know now but the descent of aliens from Mars.

The story starts very quickly, and the reader is soon in the thick of the action. The description of how quickly the Martians set about destruction and the means they employ still has the power to shock, in a way. I think it is because that instead of going for the drama of London, or a big city first, H.G. Wells has chosen to make them begin in relatively obscure, smaller towns - Woking, Chobham, Chertsey. Somehow this makes the concept seem more believable. Also the ‘battle’ scenes are very vivid, in particular one in the second half of the book, about a navy ship rushing to certain death to protect the civilians trying to flee. The panic of the escape also makes for compelling reading. Well worth trying if you see this book around!

Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie
First published 1959
This edition published by Fontana, 1975

There is such a pleasure to reading Agatha Christie books, no matter if the story is not new to me. I especially like this one, with its tale of beautiful jewels smuggled ingeniously from a foreign land, and how attention falls upon a posh girl’s school in England.

Agatha Christie builds up such an interesting array of characters – no matter how short their appearance is on the page, she gives them depth, a raison d'être – and it is this that makes them so utterly compelling. At the same time there is no real sadness when the murder comes, as it does with swift story-telling. It is definitely a skill to make me care and not care, so to speak. There are also interesting oddities – such as how ‘you can tell a woman’s age from her knees’!

Hercule Poirot is our detective here, and he shines with aplomb, as usual. But he only appears in the latter third, and as we are told in the book his role is of a ‘consultant detective’ he feels very much a consultant overall in this story. However the story does not lack from his late appearance; it is definitely within my top ten of enjoyable books from this author.


Kittie Howard said...

A good book review is actually very difficult to write, but, Jayne, you make it look so easy. Wells is particularly difficult to condense you nailed it. I really liked how you used the vocabulary at that time to pull out the book's flavor. I remember my parents talking about that radio program. Dame Agatha is my favorite, a real love. Her husband was an anthropologist. She quipped that the older she got the more he was interested in her! Gonna have to get some Botox for my knees :)

music obsessive said...

Oooh, I've been waiting for these two!

'War of the Worlds' is one of those books that must be read, not seen on the big screen. It has an overpowering feel of an England long past and technologically naive. So much so that the destructive tech of the invaders is so much more shocking. The story works on two levels as well - the main big picture and the effect on lowly lives. A fascinating book and somehow more imaginative, given the time, than today's sci-fi.

And Agatha Christie and that beautiful cover! Her books may not be the best literature but you can't go wrong with AC. Fabulous puzzles which have been pinched by every mystery writer since. You've made me want to re-read both!

Unknown said...

One gushing reader doesn't make up the majority but I am certainly gripped by a gripping tale of secrecy yet again, this is a dangerous duel of nerve and wits with a secretive enemy all across the world in Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci.

Old Kitty said...

Oh my goodness two of my fave books - especially HG Wells! :-) I couldn't have summed them up better as you've done here Jayne! It's great to see different covers of these books too. Lovely.

Thanks for this!
take care

Erica Mitchell said...

Thanks for the reviews :) I occasionally branch away from my supernatural/fantasy when I get good reviews to go off of. I am terrible at book reviews because I tend to need the *spoiler alert* button...several times. I've always wanted to read HG so I will give it a go this summer and add to the TBR pile.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I just finished a Miss Marple marathon. Oh how I love Agatha Christie! For all the reasons you have mentioned!

Hannah said...

I've not read either books.

I've only read a few of Agatha Christie but what I have read, I love. So I obviously need to read more. ;)

Mise said...

Very nicely reviewed. You're brought War of the Worlds back to me, and it certainly deserves a reread.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Jayne, I'm a new follower and I'm already enjoying your blog. Cool review on two of my favorite authors. Agatha Christie is a genius when it comes to mystery thrillers and I find the way you wrote your reviews very interesting and funny (like about telling age from looking at a person's knees). Write on!

Private said...

I simply adore Agatha Christie! I've just finished Miss Marple's short stories and they were very good! I like Poirot better, but Miss Marple is lovely also:)

Talli Roland said...

Hi Jayne,

I enjoyed reading your reviews on these classics! I haven't read either book for ages but I may just have to go back and have a re-read.

Tabitha Bird said...

Thanks for the review. I love a good Agatha Christie just like the next gal :)

Thank you for visiting my blog. I am now following you too. :)

Kittie Howard said...

Just wanted to add that I gave you and others a shout-out on my blog today.

Jayne said...

Hi Kittie – Thank you so much – that means a lot! I like writing reviews, especially as there is that tricky balance of giving a flavour yet not spoiling the book for those who have not yet read it. That is so cool that you remember your parents talking about that radio program! I would love to hear it – maybe it can still be found somewhere. Great quote from Agatha Christie as well. I must admit I gave my knees a second look too. Pass the botox over here when you’re done! And thank you so much for the shout-out.


Hi Martin. I completely agree – the book was a completely different feel from the film, and really brought the story to life in a way the film didn’t. And yes – the amazing technology the aliens have compared to England at that time – absolutely that is what shocks. H.G. Wells was very far-sighted! As for the Agatha – I do think of you with these gorgeous Fontana book covers! I will have to rescue the whole collection from its box and scan them in. Collecting and reading these books (especially the older editions) is such a joy.

Jayne said...

Hi John. Thank you for telling me about a book you like.


Hi Old Kitty – Thank you! Buying a book with a cover I like is almost just as important to me as the story inside.


Hi Erica. I am glad you are adding HG to your reading pile! Hopefully you will like it.


Hi KarenG. We are so spolit for choice with the books Agatha Christie left us, so many excellent characters. And as much as I love Miss Marple and Poirot, I also love Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. In my opinion there has not yet been a screen version of their stories that have done those characters justice.


Hi Palindrome. Do, do read more Agatha Christie! Oh the books you could read – I’d suggest start with The Death of Roger Ackroyd, if you haven’t read that one already. I also adore They Came to Baghdad.

Jayne said...

Hi Mise. Thank you! I think a nice sunny day in the garden is a good time to re-read War of the Worlds – occasionally glancing up and over your shoulder in case you see a gleam of tall metal... :)


Hi Vatche, and welcome! Thank you for letting me know you are enjoying it.


Hi Alexandra. I thought you would like the Agatha review!


Hi Talli. Thank you for letting me know you liked them! Interesting how many folk have read both books.


Hi Tabitha. Agatha Christie can do no wrong. And warm welcome! :)

Kathy said...

I have had "War of the Worlds" on my TBR list for too long, and I love Agatha Christie . . . I compare all mysteries to hers ;)

Jayne said...

Hello Kathy, and welcome! Do try WotW - it was well worth my time to read. And I also compare every book in that genre to Agatha Christie!