Dogs are wise. They crawl away into a quiet corner and lick their wounds and do not rejoin the world until they are whole once more.–Agatha Christie
I’ve been reading Agatha Christie books all my life, it seems. I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read, nor when my life wasn’t shadowed by the drama of murder. Later, as a young adult who preferred biographies to mysteries, I discovered Dame Agatha’s autobiography and read it cover to cover multiple times. In all my years of reading bios or autobios, none have compared to hers.
Last week, as I was miserable and attempting to retreat to lick my wounds from life’s disappointments, I went on a documentary marathon. I’m addicted to documentaries, quite possibly for the same reasons I’m addicted to biographies. As it went, one theme of documentary led to another theme, and then another, until I found myself watching an Agatha Christie documentary hosted by David Suchet, otherwise known to many of us as the incarnation of Hercule Poirot.
Although the documentary offered me little more than I learned from reading her autobiography, it was extraordinarily poignant, as her life was viewed through the eyes of a man whose career became intertwined with the author’s mental world. David Suchet and Hercule Poirot are practically synonymous to fans, even though Suchet clearly deserves to be a man of his own right–an actual human being outside the persona of a fussy detective with a carefully attended to and glossy mustache. In fact, having just quickly read Suchet’s Wiki page, I learned that he was a man who grew up with no religious faith, but who became a Christian after having read Roman’s 8 while staying in a hotel. The famous chapter begins this way: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
It’s a passage that bears repeating again and again. The world is a difficult place. It’s a difficult place for us ordinary and unsuccessful folk, as well as for successful writers and actors. None of can avoid the pain of living. Returning to the initial Christie quote for a moment, I can’t help but think that’s exactly what the author did during her scandalous and mysterious ten day disappearance. It’s impossible to read about her life without that particular mystery rearing its ugly head, most likely because it won’t ever be completely solved. Agatha Christie didn’t want it to be solved. Perhaps she was ashamed of having caused an uproar, of having inspired 15,000 of her countrymen to search for her. But I find it likely, whatever the case may be, that she disappeared from her life because she needed to lick her wounds. Her mother had just died, and while she was grieving, her husband had ditched her for a younger woman. So she slipped away and checked into a hotel under an anonymous name and remained there until she was discovered.
She hated the press after all of it–she couldn’t understand why so many people hounded her and hunted her down like she was the prize in a fox hunt. That she left England via the Orient Express soon after doesn’t surprise me. It spoke of her need, not only to lick her wounds, but to escape from a toxic environment where a person couldn’t be left alone–where a person was condemned by the most disinterested parties. Of course, the press condemned her. She was a famous mystery author. Creating her own mystery was good for sales. But it wasn’t good for her, this thoroughly human woman, who needed no further condemnation.