What version of this classic mystery do you prefer?
Première partie: le livre
A dear colleague handed a copy of this spanking new edition to me before our school break – the 1934 mystery that is once again resurrected, this time into a new film. It has been quite some time since I read a Christie mystery, and wanting to indulge myself over the Christmas holidays in reading that suited me (not my students), I accepted this book into my care for the two-week, academic lull.
First, this edition is beautifully crafted, from cover art, to paper, to layout and type design, and finally, its printing and binding. It was a pleasure to have in one’s hands [so there, e-book readers!]. Next, I will admit that I read every word without analysis; read it just for the pure pleasure of the Christie experience. As I grew into my young womanhood decades ago, I read the works of Dame Agatha without any consideration through the academic lens where I was ensconced for quite some years. I was never exposed to any discussion of her serious contributions to literature and specifically, to this genre. Being the librarian that I am now, and upon completion of this novel, I referred myself to Bloom’s Literature Online and came upon this:
“Christie suggests a general doubleness in the human character,” and further, “But it also creates a vision of life in which the self is ‘presented’ in what sociologist Erving Goffman has described as the staged reality we call ‘everyday life.’ “
This put me in mind of the present where we are present on and through social media. I, myself, am no exception. “Staged reality.” It has been called the ‘persona” in less recent times; the self we want others to see as the true one, rather than the self that is imbued with all its conflicts, insecurities, weaknesses. The ambiguity of lives.
It is no wonder, then, that from decade to decade, this singular title has been reprinted, re-filmed, and re-enacted ad nauseam. All the characters are staging themselves – each individually- and in collusion with one another to create this reality for the world to observe and judge. We are not so different, n’est pas mon ami?
Deuxième partie: les films
Having thoroughly enjoyed the book, on a dark winter evening I proceeded to snuggle into a blanket, with cats, on the sofa to watch David Suchet as Poirot in my favorite version of this book to film adaptation. It is a subtle and sublime rendering of the text. What I noted immediately is that it gave me an insight into the brooding and almost reluctant Poirot as he encounters this mystery; it sets the atmosphere for moral dilemma that runs throughout the film – and one Poirot will face at the story’s end. Good vs. evil. Right vs. wrong. Justice. Choices all people encounter everywhere, not just on a train bound for Paris, snowbound and derailed.
Which leads me to the newest rendition of the book in film by director, Kenneth Branagh. I admit to you here – this is based solely upon the trailer. While the visuals, thanks to Ridley Scott are stunning, the rest of the film is not my cup of tea.
There is too much action. Too much physicality. It is too American. Gone are the nuances of evil, fear, and impending retribution. Gone is the quiet psychological tension. All these intangibles of a great writer such as Christie and what she brings to the narrative. But, one must judge for oneself, in the end. I offer three options here for your new year. Bonne année, mes amis!
Birns, Margaret Boe, and Nicholas Birns. “Agatha Christie: Modern and Modernist.” Agatha Christie, New Edition, Chelsea House, 2015. Bloom’s Literature, online.infobase.com/HRC/Search/Details/380161?q=Murder On the Orient express. Accessed 24 Dec. 2017.
Christie, Agatha. Murder On the Orient Express: A Hercule Poirot Mystery. William Morrow, 2017.
“Poirot : Murder on the Orient Express.” YouTube. YouTube.com, 2017, https://youtu.be/AKPrq5dhkts.