picosgemeos: (Montanhas)
The Secret Adversary (Tommy and Tuppence, #1)The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The Secret Adversary was Agatha Christie's second published novel - appearing in 1922, a year after her debut featuring Hercule Poirot, The Mysterious Affair at Styles. The Secret Adversary, however, does not feature Poirot, or Miss Marple for that matter (the other detective immortalised by the end of her long career.) It features instead a pair of young adventurers - Tommy and Tuppence - pitted against a mysterious man, Mr Brown, who wishes to bring down the British government. Tommy and Tuppence would only reappear in a Christie novel twenty years later, in M or N?

Although The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1920, when Christie was 30 years old, it was actually written a few years before, during the First World War, when Christie joined the war effort by attending to wounded soldiers in Torquay. I have a feeling The Secret Adversary was also written during that period, then revised for publication after The Mysterious Affair at Styles.

The Secret Adversary is a weak effort by Christie, an attempt at a light, spy romp with the bounce and flair of "the Roaring Twenties" that doesn't display any of the ingenuity and plot tightness that her later novels would display. Tommy and Tuppence are a pair of unemployed young people in London, trying to figure out what to do with themselves after the end of the war. As a lark, they decide to start "The Young Adventurers Ltd" and get themselves involved in cases that can bring in quick cash. Soon, they are running after baddies who have kidnapped a young American woman with the knowledge to bring down the Tory government and usher in an age of Labour troubles (with the help of Bolshies and Sinn Féin.)

There's something "Famous Five" about the whole thing. There's a Comedy of Manners based on mistaken identities, swapped couples, spies in every corner but, most disappointing of all, the first murder only takes place halfway through the novel (and it's pretty obvious who did it.) Unlike Poirot and Marple, who we never quite know what they are thinking until the denouement, we hear nearly every thought going through Tommy and Tuppence's heads – thoughts that aren't that illuminating, meant only to paint them as slightly silly and out-of-their-depth youngsters.

Anyone reading this at the time couldn’t have guessed that better things were to come.

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picosgemeos: (Montanhas)
The Mysterious Affair At StylesThe Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Agatha Christie published this novel - her first one - in 1920, she couldn't have known that one day she'd be listed as the most widely published author of all time, only losing to Shakespeare and the Bible. It's probably fair to say that Hercule Poirot, the little Belgian detective who would recur in much of her work and makes his first appearance here, is one of the great iconic figures of the 20th Century.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles features many familiar tropes to the golden age of crime - the locked room mystery, a cast of suspects stuck in a house, a surprising denouement. One particular trope which Christie would use to better effect in later novels is the unreliable narrator - in this case, Arthur Hastings, a slightly dim-witted "Watson" to Poirot.

Hastings recounts his time at Styles, of how he was invited by his friend John to spend some time there, during which time John's stepmother is poisoned. It just so happens that Hasting's friend Poirot, a celebrated detective, is in the village with a group of Belgian refugees. Hastings, with John's consent, invites Poirot to look into the case.

Because Hastings is seen as a bit of a fool, incapable of keeping information to himself, Poirot often feeds him (and, consequently, the reader) wrong information, in the hope of keeping the killer unaware of the circle closing in. Some could say this is unfair of Christie, despite her dropping many hints along the way that Hastings can't be relied on and is a bit of a joke (his sudden marriage proposal to one of the suspects and her burst of laughter being one example.)

Styles is based in a village in Essex, and its family has some political views that would make UKIP members blush today. One of them, for a house party, smudges herself with a burnt cork to look like a black person (Christie uses the n-word). And others can barely hold back their disdain and suspicion of a local doctor that happens to be a Polish Jew. I'd like to think Poirot, who is also a foreigner - and a refugee to make matters worse! - changes their mind a little bit by saving the day.

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picosgemeos: (Montanhas)
The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike, #1)The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I gave The Cuckoo's Calling to my boyfriend as a birthday gift. I kept quiet about who was really behind the pseudonym Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) as I knew he wouldn't be aware of this fact: I was curious to see what he'd think of the novel.

Halfway through the book he turned to me and said: "it's strange but it feels like this novel was written by a woman." Why? I asked. "The way the main character, Cormoran Strike, describes his secretary doesn't sound like the way a man would think."

Because I knew J.K. Rowling had written it, I couldn't think of anything else but "Why did she write this?" as I read on. Why did she bother? Why did she choose such a simple style, such a middle-of-the-road approach? The novel brings absolutely nothing new to the crime genre. It reminded of something ITV would come up with, like Midsomer Murders - and in fact some plot points don't get resolved and are clearly meant to be developed over various books.

The characters felt very paper-thin and stereotypical (with perhaps the exception of Cormoran Strike himself) and the uncovering of celebrity life in London after the suspicious death of a supermodel was more superficial than a Heat magazine article. Most disappointing of all, the first remotely exciting plot development only happened on page 360!

This novel is more chick-lit than crime fic but only because J.K. Rowling chose for it to be so. But why? I ask myself again. Was she afraid of delving deeper into the crime genre? Afraid she'd be found out so she stuck with something easy to swallow, that would sit prettily by a cashier's desk at the supermarket and wouldn't reflect badly on her?

The end was somewhat satisfying and neatly concluded the main mystery - almost as if Agatha Christie had been channeled for the task (I was reminded of how Christie started her novels by writing the end first and I get the suspicion that's what Rowling did here.) I hope though that she takes some risks in the next books in the series.

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picosgemeos: (Montanhas)

I've been reading a lot lately about fanfiction - articles on what it is, how it came to be and where it might be going. For research purposes (ahem), I'm also reading one or two examples of it. [1] It's probably all Margaret Atwood's fault.  She shouldn't have encouraged me in response to my tweet that I wanted to write some fanfic based on her dystopian sci-fi world, MaddAddam.

Is there any major cultural work that doesn't have a fandom and, consequently, fanfic and fanstrations? (I've just made up this last word as I don't know what people call fan illustrations.) At first, I couldn't find anything related to MaddAddam, the final book in Atwood's trilogy, but as soon as I looked back to the first book, Oryx and Crake, I came across illustrations, stories, and even movie trailers.

I thought the essays in Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World particularly interesting and even eye-opening. They look at Harry Potter fandom (the first biggie), Twilight, Supernatural, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and what it all might mean. They discuss controversies I had no clue existed: that people like the author of Fifty Shades of Grey (known to you and I as E. L. James; known to them as Snowqueens Icedragon) broke unspoken fanficdom rules by profiting from their work.  I was also surprised to find out that Naomi Novik cut her teeth with Master and Commander fanfic before securing a lucrative publishing deal with her Temeraire series.

This other collection of writings is a good introduction to Wattpad, a site based in Canada that's starting to amass the most fanfic and original stories out of all sites out there. Some of its more popular users have already been snatched by literary agents and big publishing houses. It seems to be a good place to share fiction though I've already learnt that anything too long, demanding too much attention, is not popular...

I've been thinking a lot lately about my own writing - about this year of living in Brasil and how I could be usingmy spare time to work on stories and novels. The main thing I'm taking away from all these thoughts on fanfic is that it's OK - it's OKAY! - to indulge in these types of stories because, at the end of the day, it's all writing - it's the honing of craft, it's the learning of what audiences want from a type of story, it's (mostly) healthy communication with the outside world. Whether you want to put that sort of writing under your real name is another story...

Have I ever written fanfiction?  No, not that I can remember.  I did write some Dynasty, Dallas and Agatha Christie pastiches when I was a kid, but the characters and settings were all my own. It sadly never occurred to me that I could steal those beloved characters and bend them to my will.

Would I write any fanfic today? Well, I've been toying with a few ideas. One is based on the TV series Revenge (I'm just waiting for its 3rd Season to conclude so I can use the cliffhangers as writing prompts); one is a horror story involving One Direction (think Hostel meets 70s horror Race with the Devil ); and one is a love story of sorts set in Atwood's dystopian world.  I'm lucky to already have a few Beta readers willing to help - even design book covers for my stories! Atwood's incentive a few months ago was somewhat crippling because it made me jump ahead of myself and worry about something polished that I'd have to eventually share with her, and which would exist as a solitary example of MaddAddam fandom.  But all these articles on fanfiction, and the examples I've read so far, have made me realise that it's writing meant to be dished out quickly and pulpy, more for the fun of it than anything else.

[1] I can't seem to stop myself from reading this creepy One Direction fanfic where girls are sold to rich men, becoming their Baby Dolls. One ends up in Harry Styles's mansion. Reminds me a little bit of The Stepford Wives crossed with The Handmaid's Tale.


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