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Absent in the Spring (1944)

by Mary Westmacott, Agatha Christie

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3651350,100 (3.76)14
A striking novel of truth and soul-searching. Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone and stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her... Famous for her ingenious crime books and plays, Agatha Christie also wrote about crimes of the heart, six bittersweet and very personal novels, as compelling and memorable as the best of her work.… (more)



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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
The third of Agatha Christie's six novels written under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott, this one is really rather spiffing! The first two novels showed the keen understanding of character Christie always held, even if she lacked the soaring powers of a true 'literary' writer. This novel, essentially set in one location with one character, and everything else appearing in flashback or psychology, constrains Christie to the point that - like so many other writers - it brings out the best of her. The '40s are responsible for some of Christie's best crime novels, in terms of depth and insight (as she moved away from the 'puzzle' aspect of the '20s and '30s) and this crosses over. That's not to say that this is Iris Murdoch or something, but "Absent in the Spring" is a rather beautiful read. Of the three Westmacotts I've read (the other two being "Giant's Bread" and "Unfinished Portrait") this one is the best recommendation, even if you're only a casual Christie fan. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
WoW! How astute Agatha Christie! What an amazing writer to be able to portray the character of Joan Scudamore in her self-discovery and time of analysis of the life she created for herself, her husband and children. It is a page-turning short story that follows the emotions of a woman as she is stranded and isolated unexpectedly in her travel home due to the flooding of railroad tracks. With books read, letters written, no other stranded travelers to share the experience and/or a conversation, time passes ever so slowly. There are large gaps of time to fill between meals, tea time, bath and bedtime - time for walks and time to think. Will she return home as the woman she was or build upon her time of self-discovery to start anew? What does she choose? What would you choose?

In some ways, I can imagine this novel creating quite a stir when published in 1944, and yet due to the world stage at that time, I can also imagine this novel not receiving the intended attention of the British reading audience. I can also imagine many interesting and lively discussions taking place in today's book clubs.

To view London in 1944, there is an interesting set of photographs available at this link:

Don't miss reading more about the novels by Christie's daughter, Rosalind Hicks...

I am looking forward to reading the next romance titled, "The Rose and the Yew Tree." ( )
  FerneMysteryReader | Nov 9, 2019 |
First published at Booking in Heels.

Alrighty then. So, Joan Scudamore is on her way back from visiting her daughter in Baghdad when she gets stuck in a resting house in the middle of nowhere. She is the only guest, with no books or puzzles, and nowhere to go and nothing to see. She ends up turning inside her own head, chewing over her life choices and attitudes which had previously been the topic of a mild smugness. Now she begins to realise that perhaps she hasn’t been the perfect wife and mother that she had assumed.

To begin with, she fixates on the fact that her husband had been quite relieved when she had left him to go on this trip. She can’t get the sight of him walking away from her out of her head. Then she considers the true role that a close female friend had played in their lives, as well as her children’s attitudes towards her as they matured. She looks at the choices she made on behalf of the whole family, and whether she was always quite so selfless as she had always assidiously made out.

This book is brutal, there’s really no other word for it. The reader has to sit idly by whilst Joan Scutamore performs a vicious character assassination on herself. It’s actually quite hard to read, in parts. Not because of the prose or the structure, but because it apparently struck a raw nerve for me.

The tone is completely different from Agatha Christie’s detective novels. It’s chattier and less formal. We’re inside Joan’s head for all but the epilogue, and parts of it are almost stream of consciousness. It honestly flies past, despite the slow build nature of the topic. Also, whilst her Poirot and Marple books tend to be quite monotone (I love them, don’t get me wrong) and steady, Absent in the Spring is nothing but emotion.

Despite the overaching Point of the book, Joan Scudamore isn’t actually unlikeable. Yes, she’s smug and a bit judgemental, but it’s in a gentle 40s housewife kind of way. She’s not unkind; she strives to be quite the opposite. It’s therefore really quite difficult to read her slow descent into self-awareness. At points I found myself making excuses for her behaviour, and wanting to have a stern word with her family for being so harsh and apathetic towards her.

I wanted to give it a five star rating, based on how it completely altered my mood for the day. Only the best written books can make you see your world in a different way, even if it’s just for a short period. However, the ending knocked it down by a star. It’s not that it’s terrible, but I think it would have been better if Absent in the Spring ended as the train pulled away. It’s probably a realistic ending, but it would have been better not to know.

And that last sentence just punched me in the heart. Jesus. Brutal, much?

In short, Absent in the Spring is a masterpiece and I don’t use that word lightly. I pulled down her Autobiography to check what Agatha Christie had said about it, which was ‘(It was) the one book that has satisfied me completely… the book that I had always wanted to write, that had been clear in my mind. It was the picture of a woman with a complete image of herself, of what she was, but about which she was completely mistaken.’ She wrote the whole thing over three days, calling in sick to the hospital dispensary where she worked to do so. Honestly, this book is incredible. It’s very honest, unsparing and brilliant. ( )
  generalkala | Jul 22, 2018 |
"Joan felt a little gentle glow as she turned away from her image in the glass. She thought, Well, it’s nice to feel one’s been a success at one’s job. I never wanted a career, or anything of that kind. I was quite content to be a wife and mother. I married the man I loved, and he’s been a success at his job – and perhaps that’s owing to me a bit too. One can do so much by influence."

Absent in the Spring is the book that Agatha Christie describes as her favourite piece of work - not because it is her best but because it was the book she really wanted to write.

Amazingly, it is a pretty good story even though there is not a single murder in sight!

The story follows Joan Scudamore, a middle-class wife and mother who is returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq and is stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a desert, because of the railway lines being flooded. Oh, the irony.

Anyway, Christie fabulously uses Joan's isolation to let her reflect on her life and ponder over her relationship with her husband and with her daughter.
The crux of the story is that Joan's perception of herself and of the people around her are as much an illusion as the mirage she experiences when out walking in the desert.

The question, however, that keeps the story quite tense is whether Joan will realise this by the end of the book.

I found myself reading this book with some apprehension as I had no idea what to expect. Of course, the biggest surprise was that I could hardly put the book down once the characters had been introduced and Joan's dilemma became clear.

"What was it Blanche had said? You’ve gone up in the world and I’ve gone down.’ No, she had qualified it afterwards – she had said, ‘You’ve stayed where you were – a St Anne’s girl who’s been a credit to the school.’"
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Although Agatha Christie is best known for mysteries, this book is not a mystery.

When Joan is stranded in the dessert she finds herself with nothing to do but think. For the first time she really thinks about her life and her relationships with her family. Joan comes across as a very real person.
  nx74defiant | Jul 17, 2016 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Westmacott, Maryprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Christie, Agathamain authorall editionsconfirmed
Beach, AnnNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jackson, P.K.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nakamura, TaekoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pingel, IrmgardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siikarla, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mary Westmacott is a pseudonym for Agatha Christie.
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Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone and stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. This sudden solitude compels Joan to assess her life for the first time ever and face up to many of the truths about herself. Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her...
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