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Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer of Christie: And Then There Were None Discussion


And Then There Were None (also known as Ten Little Indians, though this wasn't even the first title. The original was far more racist) is possibly my favorite Agatha Christie novel under the sun.  I read it back in 11th grade for our summer reading, a day later I was ordering my dad to find me every other version at the local Blockbuster (yeah it was that long ago). We came up with 3 versions--the first theatrical release (in which they began the trend to follow the play's ending), the Fabian version that I adore and the Frankie Stallone version that every one wishes didn't exist.

My English teacher at the time, Mr. Bunce (who remains one of my favorite teachers to this day), had us do the normal summer reading stuff.  Write essays,  give presentations and of course a test.  However there was only one question on the test: How did the book end?

He knew, like any good teacher knows, that most of the kids probably went out and watched the movie version (whichever version) and left it at that.  At the time SparkNotes (surprisingly) didn't have a guide for it and remember this is before things like Wikipedia existed.  The best we had was the Ask Jeeves search engine.

Having now seen 6 versions of the movie (including the Russian, which by far is the closest to the book in terms of characters and their endings) plus a couple of stage plays, it hasn't changed how I feel about this book at all.  It is one of the best and well thought out mysteries I've read.  And possibly one of the only ones where everyone gets what they deserve.

I'll warn any who have not seen the movie or read the book that there are spoilers in my answer below.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1-      When we first meet the “ten soldiers,” while they may not have been the best group of people, you don’t necessarily wish them ill will. As their pasts are revealed and their true personalities unmasked, did you feel any sympathy for them as a victim of the situation? Do you think that we, the reader, were predisposed to dislike certain characters more and feel sympathy for others?
I know that I was predisposed to feeling more sympathy for the General, then I was for anyone else in the group.  Even to a certain extent Blore really.  The General's crime, which was similar in execution and reasoning to Vera's, was a crime of passion and you don't get the sense he did it because he disliked the man or felt malicious will towards him.  He was upset and felt betrayed and reacted as such.

Vera on the other hand, hers was was...cold.  Almost mercenary.  She let a child to die. I always felt her regret  was because he didn't marry her in the end, not because she regretted letting a child die.  
Insofar as feeling like their victims of the situation...you are what you make of yourself.  Certainly the Rogers weren't there just to work, they thought themselves "safe".  And the Judge was never a victim.
2-      Each soldier was initially defined by their stature or position in life, did that change for any of them as the story progressed, or did they rely more on their roles off the island for survival?
I definitely think that for the Doctor he relied too much on each person's stature and position.  He trusted the Judge with very little reservation and distrusted Marston immediately.  Miss Brent honestly didn't believe she had done anything morally or legally wrong to that poor girl so didn't feel she belonged there.  As the number of people dwindled I think it came down less to where in life you were and more "did you do something suspicious? Say something? go off alone?" as the paranoia set in.
3-      One of the themes present throughout And Then There Were None is guilt and the effect it can have on a person. How did each character deal with the guilt of their past crimes? Who handled it the best? And who was the most torn up from it?
Honestly speaking I think the General was possibly the most regretful.  Marston and Lombard both kind just shrugged it off--Marston because he's just that kind of banal, absorbed person and Lombard because for him it was him or them (the tribesmen he stole the food from) and he chose himself.  Miss Brent took the moral high road in all things, the Rogers seemed to be of two minds in regards to what happened.  The Judge...he didn't regret his actions either, whether he vocally said as much or not.  Blore did what he in the line of service and the Doctor was obviously shaken by what happened, but sought to blame everything BUT himself for it. 
4-      What did you think of the use of “Ten Little Soldiers” throughout the book, both the poem posted in the bedrooms and the little disappearing figurines on the dining room table? How do they both figure into the story? Do you think the reminder of the “Ten Little Soldiers” poem was necessary throughout the story?
I think it made for a tightening of suspense.  Once, maybe twice even could have been a coincidence. A grim, dark coincidence.  But as they each died and a figure disappeared, the cutesy child's song took on a much more sinister feel.  Sure there was no "bees" to sting anyone to death or a bear to "hug" anyone to death, but what twisted take would the killer use to make it fit the rhyme?  

A comic I read, Grimms Fairy Tales from Zenoscope Comics, had a holiday story that featured the song "On the First Day of Christmas".  The story was a macbre, gruesome reflections of each verse - how disturbing could it get in your mind?  The possibilities of how to twist a verse is terrifying and could be so much worse when paranoia and guilt come into play.
5-      If you were trapped on Soldier Island, which character’s behavior would you most identify with and why? If not, what would you have done differently?
A) I would have hid.  I mean it.  Soon as the second person turned up dead I would have barricaded myself away and refused to open the door until help came.  B) It was stupid of them to keep separating.  If they had all stayed together until help came it would have been that much harder for them to do anything.  Or for anyone to "sneak off" and kill one of them.  In reality I would have been a bit too much like Vera though.
6-      From the very beginning certain characters are drawn to each other to form alliances in their strange situation—at first Vera and Emily, later Blore, Armstrong, and Lombard, Armstrong and Wargrave, and then Vera and Lombard. What do you think brought them together? How do these alliances affect events?
Vera and Emily came from similar stations in life, or at least Vera was familiar with Miss Brent's station and she is a paid companion (governess, secretary, etc), so she would have felt safe with the older woman.  Or as safe as one could feel.  Blore, Armstrong and Lombard were all men who wanted answers and thus were drawn together from that. I think Wargrave targeted Armstrong later, using the man's conceit to manipulate him as he needed.  Vera...well Vera would have been drawn to Lombard's charisma and spirit.  I think if things had gone differently Vera may have relied on the General instead, but well that was obviously not possible.
7-      Did you have your own theories about who Unknown was before getting to the “Manuscript Document” and if so, at what point?
I honestly can't remember if I ever believed anyone other then who turned out to be Unknown was a suspect.  It was just kind of something I knew growing up because Agatha Christie and her works were such a big part of my time hanging with my grandmother.  If I was going into it I think I would suspect Lombard of any of them - he has some suspiciously good (or bad?) timing, seems intent on being in the thick of things and is the only one who seems to have a "Its me or you and quite frankly I think it should only be me" attitude.
8-      It’s widely commented that Christie “violated the standard rules of mystery writing” by making it nearly impossible for us to solve the mystery before she explains it to us. How did that make you feel as a reader?
I think it makes it better that way.  I read romance--where the ending is all but assured.  I read YA--where quite frankly the ending is pretty much assured. I always appreciate when authors are like 'Frak that! This is my ending dammit' and do what they want, not what is the "norm".  
9-      As Agatha wrote in her author’s note, the plot was so simple, yet so baffling, that she herself was most pleased with the outcome for having done it. Are there any mysteries from recent years that you think come close to what she accomplished here?
I don't, by in large, read mysteries honestly.  The closest I get are the detectives in my urban fantasy novels and that's hardly a fair thing since magic is real in most of them so you can magic away stuff.  I think the closest that comes to it is--and don't laugh--the latest Final Destination movie (the fifth one).  Not so much because of the mystery of who is killing them or such, but they pulled a clever trick about the context of the movie that I didn't suspect because the writers played upon the mundane things of every day life one doesn't notice any more. 
So?  Come on sound off - did you see any of movies?  Did you hear about the possible mini-series for next year?  How'd you like the book?

Join us at Book Club Girl for more discussion fun!  And on July 29th we'll be reading and discussing Dead Man's Folly!