As I mentioned yesterday, on Sunday I reread one of my favorite Agatha Christie novels (although in mentioning favorites, I forgot So Many Steps to Death; her espionage novels were absolutely delightful), Endless Night.
One of the things I loved the most about Christie is how she wasn’t afraid to try different types of crime fiction; she was probably best known for her two primary private eye series, one with Hercule Poirot and the other with Miss Marple, but she wrote over eighty novels, plays, and collections of short stories. She had a very keen eye for character (she is often criticized for the lack of character development; I never had that sense as a reader–she was able to sum up her characters very quickly and easily, able to use a few brief sentences and paint a vivid picture of who the person was; a skill I wish I had) and psychology; she was also a master of plotting. She knew how to create and manage suspense (the suspense is almost unbearable in And Then There Were None, for example); and she pretty much wrote everything from espionage thrillers to psychological suspense to murder mysteries to serial killers to…you name it; she wrote it.
But Endless Night is one of the most incredibly different things she wrote; and she wrote it very late in her career, publishing it in October of 1967.
- Every night and every morn,
- Some to misery are born,
- Every morn and every night,
- Some are born to sweet delight.
- Some are born to sweet delight,
- Some are born to endless night.
According to some quick Internet research, the book was one of Christie’s own favorites, and received a very warm critical reception.
It’s easy to see why.
This is how the book opens:
In my end is my beginning….that’s a quotation I’ve often heard people say. It sounds all right–but what does it really mean?
Is there ever any particular spot where one can put one’s finger and say: “It all began that day, at such a time and such a place, with such an incident?”
Did my story begin, perhaps, when I noticed the Sale Bill hanging on the wall of the George and Dragon, announcing Sale by Auction of that valuable property, “The Towers,” and giving particulars of the acreage, the miles and furlongs, and the highly idealized portrait of “The Towers” as it might have been perhaps in its prime, anything from eighty to a hundred years ago?
I was doing nothing particular, just strolling along the main street of Kingston Bishop, a place of no importance whatever, killing time. I noticed the Sale Bill. Why? Fate up to its dirty work? Or dealing out its golden handshake of good fortune? You can look at it either way.
Isn’t that a terrific beginning?
(And “in my end is my beginning” is also what Mary Queen of Scots took as her motto during her long captivity at the hands of her cousin, Elizabeth I.)
Endless Night is, for wont of a better descriptor, a Daphne du Maurier novel written by Agatha Christie.
The book is told from the first person point of view of Mike Rodgers, a young man about town who is just kind of drifting from job to job. He winds up at The Towers, on a plot of ground known as Gipsy’s Acre, which was apparently cursed by the gipsies forceably evicted from the plot of ground centuries earlier…and the place has known nothing but tragedy since. There’s also a sharp, blind turn in the road just before the place, where plenty of people have been killed in car accidents. But while looking at the place, Mike encounters a young woman named Ellie…and before long, he and Ellie have embarked on a romance, and have decided to buy the land and build a new house there to spend the rest of their lives on. Mike has no real friends, and a bad relationship with his mother. And as it turns out, Ellie is quite wealthy…and once he is introduced to her affluent world, things start to go very badly. Should they have listened to the old woman who warned them to stay away from Gipsy’s Acre? Is Mike a reliable narrator?
There’s an enormous twist in the book as well, which completely turns the narrative on its head, and makes you question everything you’ve been led to believe; a twist well-worthy of du Maurier. As they were contemporaries, I wonder if the two women ever met?
I love this book, and think it should be paired with du Maurier’s brilliant My Cousin Rachel, which for some reason was recently filmed again (I may watch the remake when it’s available for free streaming; it’s hard to imagine that it’s better than the original, which starred Olivia de Havilland and a very young Richard Burton). Someone should really write a compare/contract essay/piece of literary criticism about the two books; I kept thinking of My Cousin Rachel during this reread; now I really want to reread My Cousin Rachel.
Last night, I also started reading the latest Rebecca Chance, Killer Affair, and was sucked into it almost immediately; it’s Chance at her absolute best, and can’t wait to read more. I also started the final, definitive line edit of the WIP yesterday; since I always feel like the second half of my books don’t get as much attention from me as the first, I am trying something incredibly new for me: I am starting the edit with the second half of the book.
I hate line editing.
And now, back to the spice mines.