Monday, April 27, 2020

Why she sells …

… John Lanchester — The Case of Agatha Christie – LRB 20 December 2018. (Hat tip Dave Lull.)

The composer Michael Friedman, who died much too young last year, left a list of column topics which included the thought that ‘I seriously think Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the great modernist novel.’ It is possible to have an argument over the exact delineation of the term ‘modernist’ there, since Christie’s techniques were in many respects devoutly unexperimental, but if we change it to ‘formalist’, it is impossible to disagree. (If you were trying to put Christie in the modernist camp with Stein and Woolf and Joyce you would have to argue that her interest in the traditional apparatus of character and narrative was so perfunctory that she was in effect signalling that it didn’t matter and was present purely as a formal requirement – a claim that I think it is possible to make; I just don’t think the bare question of terminology is worth a fight.) Her career amounts to a systematic exploration of formal devices and narrative structures, all through a genre with strictly defined rules and a specified character list ….

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