2022 Reading Challenge

2022 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 5 books toward her goal of 260 books.

Book Review: The Woman on the Orient Express by Lindsay Jayne Ashford

twotoeWhat a clever construct – the tale behind the author! The Woman on the Orient Express is an attempt to explain Agatha Christie’s mysterious disappearance and divorce/remarriage. It is a delightful novel, written in a Christie-esque style, populated by intriguing characters with mysterious back stories and motivations and set against one of her most famous backdrops: the Orient Express. Hercule Poirot features, in an absolutely marvelous fashion that allows the enigmatic Belgian to shine as strongly as in any of his own stories. The tale is well paced and plotted, and feels entirely plausible for the personalities involved. I am a long-time fan of Christie’s fiction, but had never read anything about her personally. I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this one and after a bit of research came to realize that the truth is as typically Christie as the fiction…

The truth behind what Christie went through as a result of her divorce may never be known; this story presents a plausible and entertaining tale to explain it that seems in character and feeds rather seamlessly into the Christie mythology. I don’t know if “experts” would necessarily agree, but regardless it makes for a great story!

There are a handful of memorable quotes in this one, that demonstrate both Ashford’s facility with language and her dedication to the Christie style, Dame Agatha herself being famous for fabulous turns of phrase and encapsulations of the human condition. A few examples:

  • The word sounded the way a shiver felt.
  • How is it, she thought, that one can create a  character who is more intelligent, more observant, more perceptive than oneself?
  • She was trading shamelessly on the fact that people never suspected middle-class women the wrong side of forty to be engaged in anything underhanded.
  • If there is a God, she thought, music must be his language.
  • The trouble with still, peaceful places was that they allowed all manner of uninvited thoughts to push their way inside your head.

And then there are the subtle points about divorce and marriage…  Much of the novel deals with marriage (directly and indirectly): divorce, infidelity, the reasons for marrying or not marrying, and the compromises and concessions made in the course of living your life with another person. Those are some of the most poignant and insightful parts of this book – and also, on occasion, the reason for a little gentle eye-rolling (never of the truly frustrated variety, but occasionally of the soft-chuckling kind).  This isn’t the warmest, coziest view of marriage – but it is somehow comforting to find someone being bluntly honest in discussing how the give-and-take in relationships all too often plays out as mostly give on one side, and mostly take on the other…

  • “Marriage is always a leap into the unknown, even if you think you know the other person inside out. It works for some people. But I doubt there are many truly happy marriages.”
  • “The trouble is people always think it must be your fault when men have had enough of you. That you didn’t try hard enough. And when you have a child that makes you feel even more of a failure.”
  • “He was the first man I ever truly loved – and I don’t think you ever do get over that.”

All in all this was an easy, enjoyable read. I really wanted things to work out for all of the main characters by the end – even the one(s) that I didn’t particularly like in the beginning. Personalities unfolded like spring flowers – occasionally from rather harsh looking bulbs – and by the end everything blended together into a harmonious whole. From what I’ve read, Dame Agatha’s life unfolded somewhat similarly after the divorce/remarriage. I do hope so – someone so adept at both understanding the motivations that drive people to good and evil and at tying up their loose ends deserved a tidy wrap-up herself… If you are a Christie fan, this one will feel comfortable even as it travels a new (or at least less well-traveled) path; and if you haven’t had the pleasure yet, it should certainly stir the desire to!

My review copy was provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

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