Two wildly popular novels are under consideration here, written by women and featuring heroines who have overcome much machismo to enter their own agency. They prove that successful popular fiction often serves to advance ideas that are bubbling and widely accepted. The theme of female agency has existed in one form or another since the fertility goddesses of prehistoric times and in many different cultures, but the relentless push to bring women back into a male supremacist view of how things should being in the world requires the subject to be revived and reinterpreted all the time. (I am writing to you on the first day since the release of the Supreme Court’s draft decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.)
The two books briefly discussed here are Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society by the aunt and niece team of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and Mrs. Christie’s Mystery by Marie Benedicte.
Marie Benedict is the pseudonym of high-powered lawyer Heather Benedict Terrell, now a full-time fiction writer. She focuses her attention on women who have been forgotten throughout history and whose achievements deserve to be better known. Sometimes these women are wives or are involved in the lives of famous men (Churchill, Einstein, Carnegie), while others have left their mark entirely on their own. Besides the thriller Christie, released in 2020, his other titles include The other Einstein, Carnegie’s Maid, The only woman in the room, Lady Clementine, Officer 355, The personal librarian, smoke signaland the last, His hidden genius, about the brilliant scientist Rosalind Franklin, co-discoverer, although long uncredited, of DNA. Under her own name, Heather Terrell, she also published The Chrysalis, The card thief, Bridget of Kildare, Fallen Angeland Eternity.
Readers of Agatha Christie, reputed to be the best-selling author of all time, will be intrigued by the mystery of Benedict XVI which places the popular writer as its central character. Many followers of Christie are aware of an episode that took place in 1926, just as her first books were securing her fame, when for a period of 11 days she disappeared without explanation. No one has ever managed to find out exactly what happened during those 11 days, and in her own autobiography, although the incident made headlines for weeks, Agatha Christie glosses over the episode. Benoît’s goal here is to hypothesize how it might have unfolded, using the thriller genre itself to explore the context and motivations behind this singular event.
Most of the drama has to do with Christie’s strained marital relationship. The way Benedict constructs his story is in itself a clever work of literary clockwork. She begins with the first chapter of what she calls “The Manuscript,” from 1912, when she meets the Lieutenant. Archie Christie, a daring aviator who will eventually become her husband, even if she had been promised to another. In more or less alternate chapters, this autobiographical manuscript will be updated with later entries leading up to the demise. And in the middle chapters, we see how her husband, daughter, other family members, servants, police, press, deal with the writer’s disappearance during the 11-day ordeal. . At the end, the two timelines – of the manuscript and the hour-by-hour search for the missing author – come together in a masterful twist of plot genius that some readers will no doubt walk away accepting as what happened. actually happened, although really no one. knows. It’s as plausible as any other tale imaginable, but more accurately true to Christie’s talent for creating unsolvable puzzles, this one in her own life.
It’s a gripping suspenseful story about the author whose most famous character was Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, paying homage not only to Christie herself as a woman, author and character, but to the very genre in which Christie made its mark. And in the process of uncovering the mystery, we come to understand how Agatha Christie could have overcome the shackles of what ultimately became a loveless marriage and become his own wife.
This is historical fiction at its best, revealing the mores and standards of England in the years just before and after the First World War, with slowly changing domestic and professional roles for women and men. , masters and servants, rich and poor. There’s a lot here too, being a period piece, about England’s position at the time as the greatest imperial power in the world with tentacles stretching to almost every part of the world. It’s a poignant personal story and a fun read as we try to be our own detectives and uncover Christie’s method and motivation. Like List of books writes, “Girl power advocates will find satisfaction in the solution she crafts to her man problem.”
A one-hour interview with Marie Benedict about her book can be viewed here.
Guernsey during the German occupation and post-war
We now turn to Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, a favorite article of community book clubs since it was first published in 2008. Guernsey, just 25 square miles, is one of the Channel Islands, part of the United Kingdom but with its own self-governing status, issuing its own postage stamps, for Example. These islands are located in the English Channel and actually closer to France, off the coast of Normandy. On a clear day, the French coastline and its lights are visible from the islands. These plots of land (the slightly larger Jersey being the other main island) were occupied by the Germans during World War II as a potential springboard for a possible invasion of the United Kingdom, and were also cut off from communications with London than any of the other busy nations on the Continent. Few Britons had any idea of the fate of the Channel Islanders.
The protagonist of the novel – an epistolary work (composed entirely of letters) – is Juliet Ashton, a war journalist in England who writes about the effects of war on ordinary citizens. At the end of the war, his attention as a writer turned to what the inhabitants of the Channel Islands had experienced under occupation. The writers largely focus on the art and business of writing itself, with the letters reflecting Juliet’s relationship with her publisher Sidney and her best friend, the publisher’s sister Sophie.
Another character in London is the American publishing magnate Markham V. Reynolds, Jr., astonishingly well-dressed, courteous and handsome, every young woman’s fantasy of a real catch, who assiduously and exactingly courts the witty and urban Juliet. Most of the other characters are the islanders of Guernsey themselves, with all their backgrounds and history, their interrelationships, their feuds, and the occasional ones who were bound to have dealings on various levels with the occupying Germans. There is a little girl, Kit, an important character who is the offspring of one of these liaisons, and an incidentally gay male character.
The title ‘potato skin pie’ refers to the near starvation on the island during the war as food pantries dried up, supply lines were cut and people offered a variety makeshift solutions to stay alive.
By getting to know the island and its people, Juliette is able to work through some of her uncertainties about career choices, understand the nuances of the human experience when under strain, and discern the excitement of of deeper affection and love. Some heroic stories are uncovered of how the islanders fared under occupation and resistance. Juliet also manages to unearth a collection of well-guarded letters (of course, being an epistolary novel) from a distinguished writer who had spent time in Guernsey decades before, whose fame brings economic boon and lifelong security for some. main characters. And speaking of further, I can assume with some confidence that tourism in Guernsey has certainly increased considerably since the publication of this book.
It’s a sweet, happy story, probably more appealing to female readers (as Christie’s novel probably is). I really appreciated. My only reservation is that everyone is always trying to be so smart and clever in a Shavian or Wildean stream of epigrams and precious good words. I would have asked the writers to give each character a more distinct voice to indicate education, class and social distinction, age, proficiency in spelling and grammar.
That aside, readers will gain an education on the islands and their history, as well as savor a beautiful tale with considerable romance and more of a strong woman emerging.