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on 3 May 2016
Laura Thompson writes excellent biographies and I recommend her other book, on the Lucan mystery, wholeheartedly. This is very good, too, as it is a portrait of an age and a time lost to us now. Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I had an image of Christie as a rather cosy old lady churning out cosy mysteries set in theme-park English villages. Thompson's book revealed a complex and interesting woman and several chapters are dedicated to the story of Christie's first marriage and her own mysterious "disappearance" in the 1920s, which brought Christie so much unfavourable publicity. Thompson is also good at setting Christie's books in their context, and in fact I stopped reading the biography about two-thirds of the way through to go back and re-read at least six of the novels themselves! Laura Thompson is a very polished and thorough writer, with a style easy to warm to, and I very much enjoyed this book.
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on 6 March 2017
A thoroughly researched and well-written biography. I have read other books by Laura Thompson and they never fail to satisfy.
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on 23 December 2008
If only Laura Thompson had modelled her writing-style on Agatha Christie's clear,concise way of telling a story. But this long-winded, convoluted biography is padded out with long, tedious passages (whole chapters!) of fluff and imagination. If in doubt, the author simply imagines herself into Mrs Christie's head and makes it up. One of the least satisfying biographies I have read in a long time.
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on 14 September 2008
I like my biographies to make a clear distinction between fact, opinion, supposition and downright fantasy. They should also follow a clear line, preferably chronological. This biography is not one of those.

Though the facts are all here, they are presented in a somewhat confusing manner, with a tendency to flit around from person to person and from year to year, which often negatively affects the clarity of the narrative. The author's opinions getting far too much emphasis. She presents herself as the only arbiter of truth, in the manner of "x says that y was Christie's best book, but in fact it was not - z was". Quotes from many of Christie's books have been mined to support suppositions, and it becomes weary reading at times. A surfeit of "of course"s and "in fact"s grate throughout - my comparitively high rating is an acknowledgement of the academic depth of the book, bu this comes at the cost of readability.

It's also quite annoying and without any logic that the author describes so many photographs and of so many people, and that so few are reproduced in the book.

And yes, the author reveals the ending of too many of Christie's books. Not bad in itself, but the author does this without warning, so don't read this unless you've read all her books already or you have a short memory for such matters. It's part of a sort of projected arrogance throughout which, for example, assumes that the reader has read all of Christie's works already; that they know who all the people named are/were; that they need no explanation of acronyms and abbreviations; that they all speak French (foreign-language quotes are usually left untranslated) and so on.
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on 21 November 2009
Although this biography is on the whole well written, it suffers from the very thing the author criticises in other people's work, namely, it presents events and conversations as if the author was present at the time. I find this very irritating in a work of biography, and it particularly grated in the portion of the book dealing with Agatha Christie's disappearance and stay at the Harrogate Spa hotel. There is no way Ms. Thompson can know what was said, what facial expressions were used, etc, yet she continually describes these very things. I found it rich that the author is disparaging about Jared Cade's book, The Eleven Missing Days, accusing him of making up conversations Christie had with her family/husbands/guests at the hotel and so on, and of making his biography bend to suit his explanation of the author's behaviour, when Thompson is guilty of exactly the same thing.
I was also amazed that Thompson gives away the names and motives of so many murderers in Christie's books, and I see by perusing the other reviews that this was something other readers picked up on too. I haven't, as yet, read all of the crime novels, and now I feel it is pointless to pick up those as yet unread since I know the denouement and 'whodunnit' thanks to this biographer.
I would have to say that I found Jared Cade's book a more satisfying read and would recommend it to anyone interested in the notorious Harrogate incident.
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on 7 February 2008
This is a hefty book, but worth the effort of reading it. True, it does give away a number of plot endings and details from the novels, but I assume that most people who are prepared to read such a lengthy biography of Agatha Christie will have read most of her novels.

I am surprised by the number of people who complain that Thompson takes Christie's autobiographical novels as fact, and 'looks for clues' in the whodunnits. I found Thompson was much better than many others at differentiating between facts and opinions. Also, although novels may not mirror their writers' lives, they do reveal something about the people who wrote them. After all, wasn't it Poirot who said that whether people tell truth or lies, they can't help revealing something about themselves?!

I didn't agree with everything Thompson said (who ever does about a biography?!) but I found this book to be a well-written, interesting, well-researched and on the whole, fair account of Christie's life. Minor quibble: it would have benefited from more photos of the family members Thompson mentions...and especially the photos she describes!
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on 16 February 2008
This book has so much to say about the genius that is Agatha Christie that it disappears under its own weigt from time to time.

Agatha's life was so fascinating that, appropriately, the book's strengths are in revealing details of her life. Information about Agatha's financial problems and run-ins with American tax authorities are utterly gripping and compelling.

The book's weakness, I felt, was in over-analysis. Huge blocks of text lifted from the Mary Westmacott novels attempt to illustrate how Agatha fictionalised chunks of her own personal dramas (her divorce, tricky relationship with her daughter). The comparisons drawn by biographer Laura Thompson are extremely long-winded, and it is at this point that I felt the book beginning to flag. There is so much analysis that the book became bogged down, wordy and waffly. I found myself skim-reading through these sections, waiting for the book to calm down again.

The chapter regarding Agatha's famous disappearance opts for another irksome narrative style. The story is largely presented as a narrative story, making me wonder about the basis for the thought processes given to Agatha.

Maybe a more linear, chronological approach may have made this easier to read. As it is, there are endless over-analytical pages, and sections making tortuous compasirons between fact and fiction. I felt this led me away from, rather than towards, an understanding of who Agatha really was. Some of her domestic arrangements are not preented as clearly as I would have liked, and there is a propensity for giving the game away in a few of Agatha's books. Luckily, a previous review here warned me about Towards Zero, so I was able to skip over that; however, the denoument of a number of other works (including At Bertram's Hotel, And Then There Were None and several others) is revealed.

Agatha's releationship with her agent and publisher is nicely shown, but I would have liked more detail of how she became the world's best selling writer. This is just one key factor in the Agatha Christie mystery that was left unanswered, skirted around and hinted at.

There are times when I wished this book would grab its subject with both hands, bringing more vigour and detail to a brilliant subject. The analytical approach often misses the key questions, and I was left unable to see the wood for the trees. That said, I have dusted off my copy of Dead Man's Folly (inspired by one of Agatha's own homes, doncha know), and feel I am a step closer to knowing who it's writer really was. Still a few steps away, though.
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on 22 October 2007
what a joy to read a biography that gets inside the head of its subject, and makes the reader feel what THEY felt! I really understood Agatha Christie reading this book. It went behind her image and gave us a three-dimensional human being, a woman who was complex and vulnerable and not always very nice. Some biographies are just facts and figures. This one is like a novel in its insight. I found it gripping and moving and I can't stop thinking about Agatha now ...
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on 1 March 2017
Very interesting & an enjoyable read.
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I was really quite surprised by this book. It was not what I expected.

I think one of the first items that got my attention was Laura Thompson's use of footnotes. (They could have been very irritating indeed - but there is a Post-Modernist feel to the presentation of this biography which seems - unusually - right.)

My mother was a huge fan of Dame Agatha's - she must have read some of her mystery novels more than 3 or 4 times over. (And I read quite a lot of them as a child too. My favourite has always been 'The Mirror Crack'd From Side To Side'.) But my mother would have been quite taken aback by the 'intimacy' of this book. Its reflections.

I feel that I saw not only the 'human' side of a famous writer - but was being shown the person/soul of an artist. (A lot of people forget that Agatha Christie was a real writer - not a 'hack'.) The first few chapters are quite brilliant - they cut to the quick. Beautifully done.

Many reviewers here seem to have a problem with Laura Thompson's style/delivery. I, for one, was quite entranced by it. I loved the way she put this book together.

My only real criticism would be with regard to the 'spoilers'. Giving away the endings of so many of the books is not fair - even in the honest context of discussing the novels' origins/meanings.

There was a point, about two thirds of the way through, where I decided to pretend that this was a 'fictional biography', a genius novel - something like 'The House of Leaves'. But that only reinforced the powerful authenticity of Agatha Christie's life - and just how brilliant her books were in their construction. Real mysteries.

Whatever criticisms might be levelled at Laura Thompson's writing I enjoyed every paragraph. Full of lovely touches/intelligence/sensibility/surprises. (And never boring for a moment. It might not be to some literary tastes - but it could never be described as a 'dull' biography.)
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