Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Belly of Paris by Émile Zola [second read]

The third novel of the The Rougon-Macquart cycle introduced us to another field in the modernization of Paris brought by the Second Empire: the newly built great central market of Les Halles.

The leading character is Florent Quenu. He is the brother in law of Lisa Macquart (the eldest child of Antoine Macquart). Lisa's husband is Florent's younger brother: Quenu. The couple married and run a charcuterie business. Florent is an escaped convict from Cayenne (Devil's Island), as he was found by the gendarmes in a "suspicious manner" during the December 1851 coup d'état. Though he's innocent, he's deported nevertheless to Cayenne. Now he returned to Paris, thin and haggard, found for the first time by Madame François, a gardener who sells her vegetables on the pavement outside Les Halles.

The Quenus received Florent in their house, concealing his origin as Madame Quenu's cousin. Florent soon got a job as Inspector of the fish market. He began to feel overwhelmed by the vastness of Les Halles, and felt entrapped and drown by its abundance of food. He, the Thin man, felt lost and disgusted amidst the excessive food provided for the Fat (the bourgeoise), particularly at the Quenu's charcuterie. Zola portrayed the vastness of Les Halles as that of a cathedral, a town, and even a forest:

"Then they turned into another covered avenue, which was almost deserted, and where their footsteps echoed as though in the vault of an empty church."

"As they turned into the broad central avenue, he imagined himself in some foreign town, with its various districts, suburbs, villages, walks and streets, squares and intersections..."

"And high above this phantom town, stretching far away into the darkness, there appeared to be a mass of luxuriant vegetation, a monstrous jungle of metal, with spindle-shaped stems and knotted branches, covering the vast expanse as with the delicate foliage of some ancient forest."

Florent then succumbed to his old republican ideas, after mingling with Gavard and his "political friends". They were designing a resurrection in Paris. Florent, who were already disliked by the fishwives (the stall holders in the fish market), now brought a threat to the Quenus household by his political views. And that's why he must be get rid of. Who's gonna win in the end - the Fat or the Thin? Of course you already know the answer to this.

Les Halles, which is called the belly of Paris, symbolizes the excess of food (luxury) to fulfill the bourgeoise insatiable appetite during the Second Empire. Claude Lantier, a painter, Lisa's nephew (later appeared in The Masterpiece) voiced Zola's views on this subject. He loved to capture the beauty of fresh produce displayed at the market, but on the other hand, he hated the idea that the abundance of food would be swallowed by "those bourgeois bastards", as Claude called it. 

He further invented the irony of the Fat and the Thin. The Fat represents the middle class or bourgeoisie with their passion of luxury, while the Thin is the poor working class. But Claude made an exception for Madame François, who lived modestly and happily in the village, who, according to Claude, doesn't belong to either category. So, I guess, the moniker Fat and Thin works only for the middle class with insatiable desire for luxury, and the working class who dream to get rich, or those with hate, bitterness, envy towards the bourgeois. Florent, Gavard, and Claude are definitely the Thins, but not Madame François. On the other hand, the fishwives with their ambitions are the Fats. 

But the Quenus should have been excluded, because they live contentedly from their own business (which they worked on diligently), never doing harm to others. Their treatment towards Florent in the end is justified, because he is plotting to cause chaos in the neighborhood. The Quenus has received him in their house, even offering him half of Gradelle's money. But Florent, the ungrateful dreamer, had the audacity to plan the revolution from inside the house! He never even thought about what trouble he would bring to his brother. See.. the Thin is equally dangerous for France as is the Fat! If I were in Lisa's position, I would do exactly what she had done.

To sum up, Zola's "treatment" towards Lisa is the only negative point I granted this book. I had enjoyed the reading immensely, and loved every minute of it, especially the daily activities of the fish market and the charcuterie - the fishwives' intrigues, the competition of La Belle Lisa and La Belle Normande. Lisa Quenu has become one of my favorite characters of the Rougon-Macquart, because of her sensibility and intelligence.

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Classic Character: Lisa Quenu of The Belly of Paris

Lisa Quenu is perhaps my most favorite character from the 20 novels of Rougon-Macquart cycle. I always think the Rougons are boring, while the Macquart are mostly full of "colors", and thus, much more interesting. However, from the Macquarts' offsprings (Lisa, Gervaise, Jean), I think Lisa is the least "flawed".

In the opening novel: The Fortune of the Rougons, Zola wrote that Lisa "was big, good-looking child, very healthy and sanguine, and looked very much like her mother. But she had not inherited her mother's animal-like capacity for hard work. Macquart had implanted in her a firm desire for ease and comfort." I think Lisa is the perfect balance of her mother and father, in term of character flaws. She loves ease and comfort, but unlike Macquart, she earns it with working diligently. But unlike her mother, she chooses a profession that requires her brain, more than physical labor, so that she can put her work and comfort in a perfect balance. That's what I love most from Lisa, because I, too, love balance of work and leisure.

Lisa is so fortunate that a middle class woman (the wife of a postmaster) took a fancy on her when she was a child, and hired her as a maid. Later on when the postmaster was dead, the wife moved to Paris, taking Lisa with her while she's only 12 y.o. Maybe that's how Lisa managed to "skip" the worst part of her parents: drunkenness.

I also admire Lisa's patience, discipline, and determination, as was portrayed in The Fortune of the Rougons: "When she was still very small she work for a whole day in return for a cake." Later on she would show these qualities after the owner of a charcuterie named Gradelle, who hired her to attend the counter, died suddenly. Lisa and Quenu - Gradelle's nephew who handled the cookery - found Gradelle's hidden money under the salting tub and decided to move the business to a more respectable place. The couple, combining Lisa's refined taste and great skill at business and marketing, with Quenu's passion of cooking, run the charcuterie together, made it a perfect family business.

So, finally, Lisa's dream of living respectably came true. She combined work and pleasure to achieve peaceful and comfortable life. That's my dream life! In running the successful charcuterie, Lisa shows her sensibility, intelligence, and orderly qualities. Zola mentioned her as of sanguine person, but I don't agree. She's more an introverted person. She minds her own business, dislikes social activity (outside 'business hospitality'), and hates drama. Her life evolves around her family (husband and daughter). She doesn't gossip, and when trouble comes (Florent's growing revolutionary activities), she silently consults the priest, and then acts methodically what she thinks best. She doesn't envy the rich people, and never talks about others' faults. She even takes Florent in her home though she distrusts him, just because Quenu loves his brother. Maybe her only flaw is ever competing with La Belle Normande. It's useless, and she should be above that.

Lisa Quenu (née Macquart) might be a fictional character most relatable with myself. No exaggeration, everything in a moderate, balanced level. That's why we can never be heroine of any story, because others would find our lives dull.

What do you think of Lisa Quenu?

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Belly of Paris Ch. 2-3: Quenu Brothers & the Busy Markets

Chapter 2 introduces us to the Quenu brothers, and the bustling of the fish market and the charcuterie business in 19th century. Believe me, the later is much more exciting than the Quenus! :P

= The Quenu brothers

Florent is the son of his mother and her first husband. After his father died, she remarried a man called Quenu, and got another son: little Quenu, the sous prefecture. The mother put all her hopes in Florent, so she paid his education in law school, that one day he could get a job as solicitor. While Quenu, well, he's a lazy, sturdy lad, who stays at home with mommy.

After the mother died, Florent became private teacher, while keep spoiling Quenu. When Florent is ill, Quenu realized that he must take a profession. From watchmaking, ironsmith, and ten other professions, he finally put his interest in cookery. He works in restaurants, and finally sets up in his uncle Gradelle's charcuterie (Gradelle is Madame Quenu's brother).

In the meantime, Florent became Republican, got arrested by the police during the December 1851 coup d'état, and being sent to Cayenne (Devil's Island). Then Uncle Gradelle died; so Quenu and Lisa Macquart (the girl Gradelle has recruited for the counter) found the money Gradelle's has been keeping, decided to marry and took over the business. The business prospered, and the Quenus set up a comfortable life, combining work and comfort, as middle class (or as Zola put it, petite bourgeois). That is...until Florent returned, having been runaway from Cayenne.

= Fish market

Florent got a job as Inspector for fish market, and we are entertained by Zola's minutest details of the fish market daily activities. From the variety of fish with their colors and shapes, to the hustle bustle of the auction. So the fisher (or the agent?) would bring loads of fish in baskets. A checker will check and sort the fish, set them up neatly for display. Then the auctioneer will start the auction on each item, while the clerks take notes of prices and buyers. The bidders are the fishwives (stall holders who will sell the fish in their stalls), and sometimes gentleme would bid for a basket of fish to be shared, perhaps, with friends. It's kind of fun to read.

= The black pudding

I am most interested in the charcuterie daily bustles. Zola wrote the passages so vividly, that you could imagine how the displays look and smell, but more than that, I'm so interested in the making of the black pudding (seasonal specials of the Quenu-Gradelle charcuterie), that I particularly searched on youtube, and found a video on how to make black pudding. You know, Chinese people call it Lap Cheong, and I have thought that these brown pork sausages (that's what our family call it) are Chinese traditional cuisine. I had no idea the European call it Black Pudding! It's a delicious delicatessen, but I never imagined that it's made of pork blood. What a gross process, but what a delicious food it resulted! Here's the video of how to make the modern black pudding:

That's all I've got from chapter 2 and 3. I know it's all just the beginning. The next three chapters might not this 'sweet' - it's Zola, anyway...

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Author Birthday [August] : Samuel Richardson

#AuthorBirthday is a monthly feature, in which I highlight one author each month, mostly the ones I have not yet read. Part of the aim is to get familiar with the author and (hopefully) encourage me to start reading his/her work.

For August, please welcome:


While his actual birth date is unknown, 19 August 1689 has been recorded as the baptize day of Samuel Richardson, an English writer and printer. Born into a poor family, Richardson was the son of a cabinet maker and mahogany exporter. When he was forced to stop the business, Richardson Sr. moved his family to Derbyshire, and lived their modest life there.

Though Richardson's only education is believed to be grammar school, nevertheless he loved story telling and letters writing. When he was eleven, he wrote a letter to a 50 years old woman, who reported this to his mother, whom chided him of his impertinence. However, this incident made him quite popular as letter writer within his acquaintances, that he often helped girls by writing reply to their love letters.

His father had wanted to educate him to be a clergyman, but since they could not afford it, he let his son pick his own profession. Richardson picked printing "to gratify a thirst of reading". In 1706 be started his apprenticeship in John Wilde's printing shop, which would last for seven years. He first worked as a printer, before being promoted to composite, and finally corrector.

After seven years, Richardson braved himself to leave Wilde's office, and set up his independent shop as "Overseer and Corrector of a Printing Office." Then six years later he finally set up his own printing company. Their first major printing contract came in 1723, four years after starting the company. It was to print a bi-weekly "The True Briton", which attacking the government, and eventually got censored for libels. Fortunately for Richardson, his name was not linked with it, that his business remained intact, and kept improving.

Success in the business was not followed equally by personal matter. From his first marriage with Martha Wilde (his boss' daughter) in 1721, Richardson had seven children. Yet, they died one by one during infancy; the youngest passed away not long after his mother's death. Widowed and without children, Richardson married the second time with Elizabeth Leake, and blessed with five daughters and one son. Four of the five daughters survived their father, but the only son - the one Richardson had projected to succeed the business as his heir, died when he was only one year old. :(

In 1732 he took a nephew, Thomas Verren, as an apprentice, hoping to make him his heir, but, again.. the nephew died not long after apprenticeship. His last hope was his other nephew, whom he distrusted and did not have capability in printing business. So, while the business prospered while Richardson was in charge, it's soon collapsed under the nephew's care.

You might have been wondering now, is this Samuel Richardson guy I've been telling you until now, the same Samuel Richardson who was famous with two epistolary novels: Pamela and Clarissa? Why didn't I mention anything about his writing career? That's because he did not start writing and publishing novels until he's in his fifties. It all began when his friends Charles Rivington and John Osborn asked him to write "a little volume of letters, in a common style, on such subjects as might be of use to those country readers, who were unable to incite for themselves." It is this work which has inspired Richardson to write his first epistolary novel: Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded, published in 1740 - a novel which Henry Fielding 'mocked' in his novel Joseph Andrew. Pamela was followed by the second novel, which was considered Richardson's magnum opus: Clarissa: Or the History of a Young Lady (1748). His third and final novel is about a gentleman: The History of Sir Charles Grandison, published in 1753.

Novels weren't his only literary achievements. During his active career, Richardson has produced about 500 works in journals and magazines. On printing business, one of his notable job was the third edition of Daniel Defoe's Tour through Great Britain in 1742.

Richardson's health began to deteriorate in 1748, while he was still actively working. He suffered from Insomnia in 1758, then Apoplexy in 1761, and his health never recovered until his death in 4th July 1761 at the age of 72. Richardson was buried near his first wife, Martha.

Have you read Samuel Richardson's? What's your favorite?

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

The Vicar of Wakefield is the first and only novel of Oliver Goldsmith. I learned from Wikipedia, that Goldsmith was so poor after finishing the manuscript, that he could not pay his rent and was held hostage by his landlady. He sent for his close friend, a Dr. Samuel Johnson, who came and read Goldsmith's manuscript, found it worthy of publication, then sold it to a bookstore, and by giving the money to the landlady, freed poor Goldsmith.

Doctor Charles Primrose is the Vikar of Wakefield. He lives contentedly and comfortably in a country parish with his wife and seven children, thanks to his inheritance from a close relative and an investment. On the wedding night of his eldest son, George, with a wealthy girl, the vicar lost his fortunes through the bankruptcy of the investor, to whom he has invested the money. This is only the first of a series of calamities which will befall the family.

When they were on the journey to a small parish, where they would live a new life, Sophia - the youngest daughter - was thrown from the horse and nearly sunk into the river, but for the help of a Mr. Bulcher - a kind, sympathetic gentleman who has been travelling with the family.

The new landlord is the 'Squire Thornhill, who is infamously a womanizer. He introduced himself, to the family, befriended them, and seemed to be attracted the girls. Now, it's Mrs. Primrose's secret ambition to marry her two daughters - Olivia, the eldest and Sophia - to their better ones. She and the girls found hopes in Mr. Thornhill, and began to work up things to appear above their real circumstances, despite the vicar's disagreement. This brought more calamities to the family; until the vicar went to the debtor prison, and three of his children were apparently ruined. That's the deepest abyss any family could be plunged into. But don't worry, they will get salvation in the end, and the story will be closed in a happy ending.

The Vicar of Wakefield is a tale, and was intended as a comic novel. No wonder, the plot is too romantic and unreal. There are so many calamities alternately befall on the family, and with "perfect" timing too, that makes it unreal. Too many, that it instantly reminded me of Job (from the Book of Job). This style is not quite suitable for my taste (is most 18th century novels like that? I haven't read many, so I can't say). But the message is quite clear. Even if it's not, a parable told by one of the vicar's boys (I forgot which) highlights this single message Goldsmith wanted to convey. The parable is titled "A Giant and a Dwarf".

It's about two close friends, the giant and the dwarf, who, despite of their differences, decide to go for adventures together. However, with all his disadvantages, the dwarf sacrifices more that the giant, because to fight the same battle, the dwarf must take more effort than his friend, that in the end the reward doesn't worth the pain. And so, when the giant proposes to go for their last adventure, the dwarf rejects: [giant] 'My little heroe, this is glorious sport; let us get one victory more, and then we shall have honour for ever. No, cries the Dwarf who was by this time grown wiser, no, I declare off; I’ll fight no more; for I find in every battle that you get all the honour and rewards, but all the blows fall upon me.’ 

Most interestingly, the vicar didn't have time to 'preach' the morality of the parable. For otherwise, it would be very obvious that he's a hypocrite. And that's how clever Goldsmith was. For, by putting the pen in the vicar's hand, he couldn't have taken the role as the omniscience voice, and thus he'd let us readers to realize and learn it by ourselves. And that makes this satire becomes more satirical than if the tale has been told in first POV.

For me, it's an okay reading. Quite entertaining, though not of my taste.

Rating: 3,5 / 5

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie

Three Act Tragedy aka Murder in Three Acts is one of the collaborations of Hercule Poirot and Mr. Sathertwaite. The latter first appeared in The Mysterious Mr. Quinn, a very interesting mystery short stories collection from Christie. This time, however, Poirot acts only as a counselor, although he did attended Sir Charles Cartwright's dinner party, where Mr. Babbington, an old reverend, died suddenly after sipping his cocktail. There's no poison found in his glass, so most of the guests thought he died a natural death.

Sir Charles Cartwright is a middle aged well known actor who is infatuated with a twenty year old Hermione "Egg" Lyton Gore, who also attended the dinner party. Besides her, there are eleven other guests, including Poirot, Mr. Satterthwaite (a socialite and observant of human psychology), Oliver Manders (a young man who's in love with "Egg" Lyton Gore), and an old friend of Sir Charles: Doctor Bartholomew Strange (a neurologist). Not long after the dinner party, Doctor Strange held another party with similar guests. This time the host himself died on nicotine poisoning after drinking a glass of port wine.

Doctor Strange's enigmatic butler is missing the day after police investigation, and this made him the main suspect. However, Sir Charles, Mr. Sattherthwaite, and Egg feel that there must be a connection between the poisoning of Babbington and Doctor Strange. They run a joint investigation, but incapable of revealing anything, they seek Poirot's councel.

On the same day Dr. Strange died, he received a patient at his sanatorium called Mrs. De Rushbridger. She sent a telegram to Poirot, mentioning that she knew something about Dr. Strange's death, but when Poirot and Mr. Sathertwaite arrived, the woman has also died from poisoning.

This is not one of my favorites, and, to be honest, I've guessed the murderer from very early chapters. It has a rather poor plot, and the story is easily forgotten. It is also one of the titles which give you some hints about the 'whodunit'. If you have read a lot of Christie's, you'd notice that this one has a slight similarity with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Peril at End House. On the whole, it doesn't have the usual charm you'd find in Poirot's or Christie's.

Rating: 3 / 5

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Belly of Paris Ch. 1: Les Halles and What It Represents

I am currently reading The Belly of Paris (Le Ventre de Paris) as part of my The Rougon-Macquart Project. It's a reread, actually, but I guess I didn't quite captured the book essence on first read, and so is quite astonished to find so many interesting things in only first chapter. So, I might do these chapter posts throughout this book, or maybe it's on this chapter only, who knows? Anyway, here's my random thoughts on chapter one.

= The recurrent themes

The opening line struck me that apparently Zola liked to open his narrative with two themes:

First, the contrast between procession and unmoved inhuman things. As was with The Kill (with congestion of carriages leaving Bois de Boulogne), The Belly of Paris, too, is opened with carts of fruits and vegetables heading to Les Halles (the central food market) in slow procession: "Through the deep silence of the deserted avenue, the carts made their way towards Paris, the rhythmic jolting of the wheels echoing against the fronts of the sleeping houses on both sides of the road, behind the dim shapes of elm." It seems to point out how the corrupt society is dragging the nation towards destruction.

Second, a stranger coming into and then installed onto an existing community (Étienne Lantier to the mine pit in Germinal, Octave Mouret to the department store in The Ladies Paradise, and now Florent to Les Halles).

= Two histories

Les Halles is a symbol of modernism (and the consequences) the Second Empire has brought to Paris in 19th century. Les Halles was a vast structure of twelve pavilions made with iron and glass in the avant-garde architecture, built by Victor Baltard in 1850s. Each pavilion housed different market of foods: fish and poultry, fruit, herbs, and vegetables, flower, meat, butter and cheese, tripe, game, etc. It was located in the district of Le Cimetière des Innocents (Holy Innocents Cemetery), which was decommissioned, and the bones was transferred to the Catacombes, before being replaced by the herbs and vegetables market in 1787.

There were two groups of markets at Les Halles. The stall holders sell their products within the pavilions, while smaller vendors installed their pitches on the pavement around the pavilions, paying lower tax than the stall holders. It was finally demolished in 1971, and nowadays becomes Forum Des Halles, an underground shopping center connected with an underground lines and metro transit.

Following the lead of The Fortune of the Rougons, Florent Quenu, the protagonist, is a Republican who was deported to Cayenne (Devil's Island) after the Louis-Napoleon coup d'état (December 1851). After his escape from Cayenne, he went to Dutch Guiana for several years, before plucking enough courage to return to Paris.

= Cathedral and forest

Brian Nelson, a prominent Zola expert and translator of the Oxford World Classic edition I'm reading, wrote in the explanatory notes, that Zola has suggested that Les Halles are the cathedral of modern life: "He aimed explicitly to play on Victor Hugo's famous novel Notre-Dame de Paris."

What the cathedral represents, then? Is it the hugeness, unreachable, overwhelming (or even oppressive) of the modernization of Paris, that engulfed the working classes? "...the gigantic size of Les Halles, whose heavy breathing - the result of the excesses of the day before."

Zola even made one of the characters (which has not appeared yet on chapter one) as the Quasimodo of Les Halles. Interesting, eh? Nelson also suggested that Zola associated the image of forest with that of a cathedral. "The shadows, in the hollows of the roof, seemed to make the forest of pillars even bigger, and multiply to infinity the delicate ribs, fretted galleries, and transparent shutters. [..] there appeared to be a mass of luxuriant vegetation, a monstrous jungle of metal, with spindle-shaped stems and knotted branches, covering the vast expanse as with the delicate foliage of some ancient forest." That threw new lights on the forest in The Sin of Abbe Mouret... but that's of another book.

= Florent and the excess of food

The character of Florent provided Zola with an unmistakable irony of a thin, haggard, starving man who is entrapped in the midst of overflowing foods in Les Halles. Combining it with his fear that the government will find and catch him, made him the perfect embodiment of the excessive luxury and pleasure of the bourgeoisie, while the working class are struggling with poverty, slum, and injustices.

Claude Lantier made his first appearance in this book, before appearing in as main protagonist in The Masterpiece. He is reflecting Cezanne (physically), and Zola in his enthusiasm and views towards Les Halles. With his painter's eyes, Claude sees Les Halles as a beautiful landscape subject with beautiful colors, however with his heart, he condemns how the nature is abused to serve the uncontrollable appetite of the bourgeoisie: "Those bourgeois bastard eat it all."

That's all I've got from chapter one. I am now in the middle of chapter two, which was picturing the busy, noisy life of Les Halles. Let's see where it would bring us...

Friday, August 7, 2020

Top 5 Agatha Christie Novels (So Far)

You should have known by now that Agatha Christie is one of my favorite writers and my most read. I remember vividly the day I found my first Agatha Christie novel. It was in elementary or junior high school. I was about 12-13 years old, and by that time have been reading many adventure and detective stories (mainly Alfred Hitchcock's, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew), but none about real murder.

One day I walked into the school library, hoping to find some adventure books I haven't read before, and stumbled upon this title: After the Funeral. I was hooked instantly by the synopsis, and checked out the book instantly. Later at home I showed the book to my dad (still unsure whether I would want to read about murder), but he encouraged me to, saying that he used to love Agatha Christie too; hers are great detective novels, and seldom contain violent or bloody scenes, which hitherto I've been afraid to find. So I read it, and... LOVED it! After that, monthly bookstore visits became my most exciting moments during high school, because I'd get to pick one or two new Agatha Christie's to bring home. Well, they only lasted several days, and so I'd spend the next weeks in expectant to the next visits!

Now I have read, roughly, about 70 books (mostly during night school and college), and right now I'm in the middle of rereading (or reading if I've missed it before) all Christie's crime novels (omitting the short stories collections) in publication chronological order in the Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challenge.
From these rereading I found out that, but few memorable favorites, I've forgotten most of them. However I was lately intrigued by a few bloggers who inquired my opinion on which Christie's to start with. And several days ago I came to realize how many "top ten lists" of Agatha Christie's out there, and thought I might as well publish mine. Not that I'm an expert or something, no! I've forgotten most of them, and am still in the middle of the rereading process anyway. So I will narrow it down to TOP FIVE of my favorites, and most probably I'd change my mind every now and then, but for now, here it is...


FIVE: Towards Zero

This is one unique crime story, the one without murder at the start, or you might call it a murder in the making. Yes, it is! If the murder is the zero point, here's a story of the broilings of many seemingly unrelated events, happening to different people, and the thought of it inside the mind of the murderer-to-be. It provides you with the unique study of a criminal mind.

FOUR: Crooked House

This is one of Christie's "close intimate murder" stories - you know, a crime which happens in a small intimate surrounding, involving close relatives. It's usually the best Poirot's works, but this one is different. First of all, there's no detective. Then there's also the eccentricity of the family, and the feeling that there's always something dark lurking there behind you that sent a chill down your spine throughout the reading. It's one of my most memorable Christie, and you'd ponder a lot about human mind after reading this!

THREE: And Then There Were None

The most thrilling story Christie's
ever written. Ten people are invited to spend holiday in an isolated Island, then, one by one, they are murdered. And as the title's hinted, they were all eventually dead. No survivor and no possibility of outsider, who's the murderer then?? A gripping story, a kind of modern gothic. No wonder it becomes one of the famous ones from Christie.

TWO: Curtain

If you are new reader, please remember NOT to read this first. It's Hercule Poirot's final case, and served as a farewell. It's Poirot's in his ultimate understanding of criminal mind, that without him, no one could have thought that a murderer is in action. For me personally, it's the most memorable and emotional, but it's also the most exquisite murder case. So, read it after you've read all Poirot's other cases (and they are numerous!)

When I narrowed down the list to five, I didn't realize that there're more than that (and damn, it's so hard to pick just, isn't it?) So may I present you with one honorable mention?


Murder case investigation is usually started with murder, right? This one is different. Poirot investigates some murder attempts directed towards a girl, disguised as accidents. This is another interesting study of crime psychology, with an unusual plot twist!

ONE: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I think this is one of the biggest plot twists ever in detective novels, and probably the most eloquently written by Christie (especially the last chapter!) You'd find it in all the top lists out there, and it's one of Christie's most famous. It's Hercule Poirot's case, and one of the best psychological studies from Christie. I remember thinking after my first reading (I've read it 3 times), that to murder is foremostly the decision. Everyone can do it when provided with motive and opportunity - one decision will make huge differences. How dangerous human free will is!

Well, there are at least six novels you can consider from, if you want to start reading, or read further, of Agatha Christie. You can get more in my Agatha Christie Perpetual Reading Challege list. But there are so many, your head must be spinning. Let me just help you...


1. Reading order

They are not in chronological order, and each book tells a standalone story. However, to get intimate with the two recurring detectives: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, you would want to read their first books before the other, and finally end with their finales. The Mysterious Affair in Styles is where you'd learn Poirot's little history and background, while The Murder at the Vicarage is the first appearance of Miss Marple. They'd be your good starting point. The Mysterious Affair in Styles, in particular, is Christie's first crime book, so by starting it, you'd see how she begins, and how she'd improve in the next ones.

2. Detectives

What a crime novel without detective, right? However, with Christie, you'd find some stories are indeed without detective. The most famous in this category are And Then There Were None. There are also several with amateur-turns-detective, such as Crooked House. But in most cases you'll meet some recurring detectives. The most famous one is Hercule Poirot - the only fictional character who ever received a real obituary in a newspaper. There's also Miss Marple, Inspector Battle, and the jolly couple: Tommy and Tuppence.

3. Themes

My favorite Christie's are the close intimate murders like Crooked House or Dumb Witness, but some might prefer more dramatic ones like Lord Edgware Dies or Three Act Tragedy. If you love witty espionage thriller, The Secret Adversary or The Secret of Chimneys would be great for you.

If you're picking Agatha Christie for teenager, I'd say And Then There Were None would be a good starting point. You might not want to give them something brutal such as Murder on the Orient Express, but I think the rest are good enough.

So, which Christie's have you read, and which you'd read next?

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

How I Read Book Tag

I saw this tag at The Once Lost Wanderer, and thought it'd be fun to do my own.

Do you have a certain place at home for reading?
I love reading in my bedroom, as it is the quietest place in my apartment. Plus the view is quite nice!

Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop after a chapter/a certain number of pages?
Oh I can stop reading anywhere I need to. You see, I don't have luxury to spend certain time for reading, thus I read whenever I have spare time: during lunch break at work, on the way to and from work, before sleep, etc. It means that I must stop when it's time to do something else, and I can go back to where I've left it very easily.

Bookmark or random piece of paper?
Bookmark. I always have several bookmarks (thanks to Book Depository!) in my bag, on my desk at work, and on my night table at home. Whenever I lost one (happens quite often) I can always find another.

Multitasking: music or TV while reading?
Neither. When I'm reading, it's a collaborated work of my brain, heart, and senses. I don't need any kind of distraction. And the music would be playing in vain anyway, since I would not be able to enjoy it. Better to play it when I can focus on the music while having something trifle to do.

Do you eat or drink while reading?
Not as a habit. I'd just eat or drink because I'm hungry/thirsty, or if I'm reading during the lunch break :)

Reading at home or everywhere?
Everywhere. Most often on the way to and from office. I take a grab car, so I have the luxury of sitting and reading (mostly) without interruptions for 15 to 20 minutes.

One book at a time or several at once?
Usually one at a time, if the book is engaging enough, but sometimes I'd need another for a change. Agatha Christie's are always perfect for this!

Reading out loud or silently in your head?
Silently, though sometimes I read some passages out loud just to know how it sounds.

Do you read ahead or even skip pages?
With crimes or thrillers, I never read ahead, but with slow paced books such as Dickens, yeah.. sometimes when the story is dragging on, I read ahead some pages, just to know where it will lead me, or whether it relates to the main plot or not. There's nothing harmful in that; on the contrary it could encourage me to read on (or the skip it).

Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?
I don't really bother with the book's looks. Its value is in the passages it contains, and I keep it to read again in the future, not mainly for display. While I always keep my books as neatly as possible, I don't deliberately "keep it like new".

Do you write in your books?
Of course! Write, underline, dog-ear; though not in every book.

Whom do you tag?
Are you interested in doing this? Then consider yourself tagged!