The Fifty Women Challenge: ‘The Moving Finger’ by Agatha Christie ****

I purchased a Miss Marple Omnibus not too long ago, and decided to read The Moving Finger for mine and Yamini’s Fifty Women Challenge.  The novel was published in 1943, and takes place in Lymstock, a ‘village full of secrets’.

Injured war veteran Jerry Burton moves to the village with his sister, Joanna, on advice from his doctor: ‘”take a house, get interested in local politics, in local scandal, in village gossip.  Take an inquisitive and violent interest in your neighbours”‘.  Almost as soon as the siblings are settled into the house which they are renting from an elderly spinster named Emily Barton, they receive a poison pen letter.  At first, they dismiss it as a joke, believing themselves to be merely moderately unwelcome newcomers, but soon afterwards, they find that such letters are ‘currently terrorising’ many of the inhabitants of the village: ‘In a place like Lymstock nothing nasty could happen.  It is odd to think that it was just a week later that we got the first letter’.

This letter is made up of ‘printed words and letters… cut out and gummed to a sheet of paper’.  It insinuates that Jerry and Joanna are not brother and sister, as they share very little in terms of looks.  Of this, Jerry candidly tells us the following: ‘In novels, I have noticed, anonymous letters of a foul and disgusting character are never shown, if possible, to women.  It is implied that women must at all cost be shielded from the shock it might give their delicate nervous systems.  I am sorry to say it never occurred to me not to show the letter to Joanna.  I handed it to her at once’.

Quite unusually, The Moving Finger makes use of the first person perspective; a rarity in the books by Christie which I have read to date.  This builds Jerry up believably, and never does the narrative voice feel too effeminate, or its turns of phrase unlikely for a man within the period to utter.  The character development has been believably structured too, and Christie’s descriptions of some of the story’s protagonists sum them up wonderfully in just a few deft phrases: ‘Joanna is very pretty and very gay, and she likes dancing and cocktails, and love affairs and rushing about in high-powered cars’.  Oddly, Miss Marple does not make much of an appearance here, but the story does not suffer for it.

The Moving Finger is certainly one of the strongest Christie stories which I have read to date, and is one which I would heartily recommend.

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The Fifty Women Challenge: ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter ***

A few of the choices on mine and Yamini’s Fifty Women Challenge list are authors whom I very much enjoy, but I am still only scratching the surface of their work.  Angela Carter is one such woman.

9780140178210I must admit that I have found her work a little hit and miss in the past.  I very much enjoyed The Moving Toyshop, and still think that the magical realism within it, and the beguiling and creepy elements, have no real equal in contemporary literature.  I have found a few of her other novels a little less enticing, however, despite her holding such a prominent place on the Virago Modern Classics list.

I had been very much looking forward to reading The Bloody Chamber for such a long time, and thought that I would very much enjoy it, loving twists upon fairytales as I do.  I was therefore thrilled when I found a copy of Carter’s Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Stories in a local charity shop, albeit a rather battered one.

A few weeks before I had planned to read The Bloody Chamber, my dear friend Belinda told me how disappointed she was with the collection, particularly with regard to the way in which Carter had subjected all of the male characters within it to some form of weakness, so that her female protagonists could subjugate them.

Still, I began the stories with an open mind.  Each of the tales here presents a series of (mostly) clever twists upon well-known fairytales.  I found that Carter’s writing is often careful and really quite wonderful, particularly within the title story which opens the collection.  Her vivid descriptions and general prose in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ were both lovely and rather disturbing.  Incredibly strange elements manifest themselves throughout, something which will surely not surprise anyone who is already familiar with her work.

As I often find with short story collections, some of the tales were far better than others; I felt that the originality tailed off a little after the first few stories, and never really reached the same level again.  Some of them felt too developed, and others were not developed enough; there was no real balance struck between the two.  There were a lot of similarities within the plots too, and a lot of them seemed to circle around (were)wolves, which I have very little interest in.

To comment upon the males within the collection, they were utterly void of strength in places, and rather unnecessarily so.  It was always the women who had to act as the rescuers, and the men who had to act as the victims.  I could see what Carter was trying to do within The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, but it just didn’t really follow the boundaries of the real world, which the stories themselves still purported to be set within.  Feminism should not be about weakening males in comparison to females; it should be about equality – something which does not seem to exist within the realms of this collection.  To conclude, I really did enjoy the overriding fairytale theme within The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, but feel that Carter could have been a touch more creative with it at times.

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