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The Book Club

Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None

1. One of the best mystery fiction novels ever. Detection and mystery fiction are my favourite genres of literature; naturally, prolific writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie have grown to be my favourite authors. Initially, my comprehension of these genres was largely limited to detective-based books; so I was primarily reading the assortment of adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot et cetera. Nevertheless, “And Then There Were None” is one of the best mystery fiction novels that I have picked up. From beginning to end, Christie rationalises every single possibility to the extent that no loopholes are evident; and the reader is hence kept guessing about the set-up and arrangement right throughout the adventure. The success of a mystery text lies in its ability to keep the reader on his toes every step of the way, rendering resolutions impossible until the very end of the story.

2. Guessing, guessing, and guessing; until the resolution. Even though there is a constant sense of inevitability, in which the reader is made to belief that every single individual would die for their “crimes” in the end, the reader retains this sense of possibility that someone else must have been on the island and in the house. The death of Vera Claythorne does not diminish this; but intensifies the desire of the reader to develop a comprehension of the case at hand. Unexplained elements persist even after the Scotland Yard has logically and thoroughly investigated the involved clues and victims.

3. Red herrings. These little distractions are peppered throughout the novel. Christie deliberately employs Justice Wargrave for this purpose; for his experience, grounded perspectives and purported credibility earns him trust from the other characters. This faith resonates deeply with the reader. As he establishes right from the beginning, “Mr. Owen could only come to the island in one way. It is perfectly clear. Mr. Owen is one of us”. The red herrings are continued when some of the men search the island and house extensively to no avail. Ultimately, the death of Justice Wargrave himself seemingly absolves him from the possibility of being the murderer or the one who had planned everything, and easily turns the reader’s attention elsewhere.

4. A novel of questions. When is a crime, a crime? If justice fails, who or what should fill the void? What should be the appropriate punishment for crimes that go unnoticed and unreported officially? If a crime is committed unintentionally or by accident, should the perpetrator still take responsibility? Are the victims in the novel genuinely deserving of their deaths? Does Justice Wargrave deserve out sympathy or respect?

5. Justice Wargrave. Given his disposition, judicial experience and composition in spite of the fears and insecurities around him (quite expectedly, given that he had everything planned out), the other characters look to him for leadership. He chairs meetings to evaluate the state of affairs with cold reason; which parallels his criminal proceedings that he used to preside over. We eventually do find out that he is the mastermind of the entire episode. However, there are disputes over the true character of Wargrave, and whether his acts and plans upon the island are an act of genius, or fundamentally a reflection of his sadist and selfish nature. He is methodological and logical in his arrangements (such as the order of his victim’s deaths), and has a perverse interest towards death, but I am quite sympathetic to his cause. In reality, there are individuals who transverse the grey area of justice, and get away scot-free as a result of a plethora of justifications. The deaths are horrific, and the psychological process taxing; but it is hard to deny the fact that the victims did get what they deserved (if the accusations were true).

 

6. The administration of justice. Instead of employing a character detective-protagonist to uncover the case, the reader is subtly engaged as the detective to figure out the intricacies of the murders. Wargrave is the dispenser of the punishments for the guilty individuals; and though one can contend that he does not have the authority to play God to decide who should or should not die, most of the murder victims do deserve their endings. I do not think Christie intentionally made Wargrave to be a cruel and unjust man (through his methodologies in the administration of justice), but she makes it clear that judicial bodies are not necessarily effective administrators, and justice is not necessarily divided clearly into black and white. In the end, Wargrave’s competency and justification in filling this void is up to the interpretation of the reader.

7. “Murder isn’t what most people think – giving someone a dollop of arsenic – pushing them over a cliff – that sort of stuff. Justice Wargrave is convinced that he is filling a void that justice cannot wholesomely cover; though he does concede that he might also be motivated by an innate desire to kill and murder.

 

8. The foreshadowing of the deaths; and the development of the plot. The progression of the storyline, primarily marked by the deaths of the individual characters, is guided by the “Ten Little Indians” poem. Besides copies of the poem available in all of the bedrooms, the ten china figures help contribute to a sense of helplessness and inevitability. Readers are gradually drawn into the tensions. Even before the characters take conscious notice of the poem, readers should spot the pattern and recognise how the deaths and plot would slowly play out. Foreshadowing also increases psychological suspense, and the narrative style of shifting from one character to another amplifies the common sense of confusion and uncertainty. Ever character is rendered culpable and responsible for the past deaths; and only the dead are cleared of suspicion.

9. Vera’s founded trepidation and fear. “Do they keep bees on this island? . . . It’s sane enough what I’m asking. Bees, hives, bees! . . . Six little Indian boys playing with a hive”. Despite her intelligence and capability (resourcefulness and stability even at the face of death, vis-à-vis Philip Lombard with a gun), her perpetual guilt of her crime and hysteria over the poem eventually leads her to hang herself as the final victim.

10. “I have wanted … to commit a murder myself. I recognised this as the desire of the artist to express himself! … But – incongruous as it may seem to some – I was restrained and hampered by my innate sense of justice. The innocent must not suffer. What a paradox the reader is left with; you are the judge. One thing is for sure: if you are approaching the book for the first time, you will never have expected the conclusion.

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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