Let me begin with an apology. This is an anime blog, and you are right to expect the content be somehow related to anime. But I am not going to make another blog just to write about one book, so forgive me this one time, okay? =)
So this is a post about Giant’s Bread, a book written by Agatha Christie under the name of Mary Westmacott. Christie is famous for her crime stories, especially ones featuring Poirot and Marple. Giant’s Bread is not one of those stories though. It is not a crime story, it is not connected in any way to her other works either. It is a book about a guy by the name of Vernon Deyre who has a talent for writing music. And it is, in my opinion, a really good book, one of the best Christie’s work I’ve read. I definitely recommend it to anyone who cares about cynical slice of life stories and to everyone who likes Agatha Christie as a writer. This ends my review of this book, the rest of the post will be a filled with spoilers ramble about how I like and dislike certain aspects of the book. So feel free to stop reading here and go and get the copy of the book.
Okay, for those who are left, here we really begin. Why do I like the book? Let’s look at how the things starts. It tells us a story of a young boy Vernon who lives in a little world with imaginary friends and real people mixed together. He slowly grows up, meets friends. He grows up being distant from his mother and father, not because they are away, but because there are nurses who take care of the kid, so his interactions with his mom are limited to those sentimental moments when she wants to kiss him or tell him how she loves him. And well, Vernon doesn’t like it. He is not sentimental and he don’t want the kisses. In fact, Christie makes it quite clear that the mother doesn’t know how to handle the child and the child is not comfortable with her.
Then there is father. He cheats on his wife in their own house. The situation is so out of hands that little Vernon is aware of it. He admires his father, still. He has no reason for that, they barely know each other, but he does. I think Christie tried to portray Vernon’s father to be a much smarter person than his mother, but I am not sure. And at any rate, he dies in a war at the very beginning, and that is the end of this line.
And I want to stop here for a moment, because here we see for the first time what I think is the merit of this book. I have heard a saying about theater and proper way of making a play “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” This was said about a play, but books are quite often following this instruction too. And I don’t know if I am a fan of that. I think you can put something that has no function into your story, and that is alright. Vernon’s father dies, and the conflict that him being unfaithful brought up is just forgotten. But it is a little story that adds to the twisted beauty of this book.
Later, when he grows up, Vernon learns that he has a talent for writing music. He tries to pursue his dream of making something great with it. He also dreams of living in his father’s house (which was Vernon’s property, but way too expensive for him to actually live in). And he meets a girl whom he falls in love with and he desires to have her. And this is an interesting part of the story, as around this worrying time of his life he is told that he can have whatever he wants, but he can only get one thing. It wasn’t a prophesy or anything dramatic, just a fact that Christie states through one of her characters.
And I think this is another good thing about this book. It tries to make an argument, and it does it well. The next part of the story will slowly but surely show why Vernon can’t have everything. He will sell the house to be able to marry, and he will start writing real music only when his loved one dies. That is a cruel and piercing way in which Christie views those things. And there is a lot of truth to it. And at the same time I think it is controversial. I think we all would agree that it is not likely that you get far in a field of your choice if you divide your attention between multiple and very hard to achieve goals. But surely, having a family can’t be a hindrance? Well, this book says it is. And I am not going to try to convince you that it is true, in fact I am pretty sure you can make a good argument against this point. But I like the attempt Christie made.
The story goes on. The girl Vernon desires, the name is Nell, has fallen in love with him. She is relatively poor, just like Vernon, but her mother manages to find money to dress her and make her look suitable to enter best houses, participate in parties and generally amuse herself in this aristocratic society. All to find a rich husband for her, someone who will pay their debts and let Nell enjoy life of luxury. Nell is well aware of that, and when she fell for Vernon it was a big concern to her. She knew that being with Vernon would mean to continue the life of relative poverty (not real poverty, but not a lite of an elite), and she did not want that. But she loved Vernon. And Vernon, well, he is not a smart guy. He did not appreciate her side of the story at all. When they first talked about being together he said that he don’t mind being poor, and that he knew she doesn’t mind it either. It wasn’t correct, she did mind. Later she told him so, and told him that he doesn’t know what it means, to be poor.
And that is yet another interesting point Christie makes. Being in love is a great thing, and being romantic about it and be willing to give away everything you have is truly beautiful. But is it okay to ask your loved one to give away everything too? Is it okay to expect someone to change her/his life for your sake, even if you are both in love? Eventually Nell goes away to marry another man and Vernon spend that same night with another woman. Months later that woman, called Jane, loses her voice signing in an opera written by Vernon. She did it for his sake, to assure the success of the the thing. A few months later Vernon and Nell get together again and they marry.
I think by now you see what kind of story it is. It is a story about people, about the awkward way they live together. It is written in this strange way, sometimes you know exactly what is going to happen, sometimes you have no clue. Sometimes the story will spend pages and chapters describing events that have nothing to do with the main story, the story of Vernon Deyre. And sometimes it would walk back and forward, as if the writer doesn’t know if she wants to make this turning point to actually happen. Somewhere in this book there is a description of a colossus, a statue made of people slammed together to create a weird and frightening form. That is what this book is like. Human lives twisted together, twisted by each other, but not is tragic way; just something that is not meant to be pretty, but you can still appreciate it.
If you made it so far, I am surprised :D I am sorry for the length of this post, but if I don’t finish it I will not feel satisfied, so bear with me.
Now I want to make some criticism. First I want to say that while being an excellent writer when it comes to portraying real life, Christie is having hard time dealing with fiction. She has written some adventure stories, and they are okay, but nothing to compare with her other works, which are usually outstanding. And I don’t know why, but she decided to put some of this adventure staff into her story here. I won’t go into details, but I think that you would not miss much if you stop reading the book after a certain funeral scene.
Also I don’t think the end of the book is as great as the beginning. It is the same as with her other book Absent in the Spring, that she also published under a pseudonym. It almost feels like Christie burns down when writing a book. With detective stories it is simpler because the end is already written. It usually is a lengthy unravel of the case, and it is something you can write about in a pretty mechanical way, cause you’ve already thought about the logic of the crime, and now you are only formulating ideas that are already in your head (or, probably, notebook). That is just my idea of it though, maybe I am wrong.
I guess it is time to end this ridiculously long post. There are so many moments in this book that deserve mentioning, but I don’t think it is fair to make you, my brave reader, suffer any longer. If this post makes even one person read the book I would be both surprised and delighted. See you next time (^_^)/
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