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An Autobiography (1977)

by Agatha Christie

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1,667368,660 (4.1)1 / 200
Dame Agatha Christie sheds light on her secretive life and tells of her early years, her marriages and rise to success.
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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Agatha Christie is the Queen of Mystery, with countless novels and short stories behind her. This is a different book. It's a narrated story through her memories, from the age of 5 to the age of 75. It is written in a light and conversational style. This could be her at the dinner table recollecting old memories to some new friends. Anyone wanting to know everything that happened to her will most likely be disappointed since this is random recollections and major events, some of them, not all.

What we are given is a look into the mind of Christie. It gives an idea about what she found interesting, fun, valuable and important. Places. She mentions early that she remembers places more than people and this book confirms it. The family home of Ashfield, though sold and demolished quite some time before this was published, is on the first and the last page. And imagination. She marvels about how her imagination kept her busy and happy as a child.

For an author she seems to have a blind eye to other people's views. She does not seem to realise when she is appreciated and she does not seem to realise her own position in the world. She iterates many times that they were not rich, but most people did not do what her family did. Wikipedia calls her family Upper Middle class and maybe this is what it was like to be Upper Middle Class around 1900. Her family did lose its position though. The family money disappeared and she ended up having to make her own money. Luckily since otherwise she might not have been so motivated to write.

She also had a fascination with houses. I don't know how many she bought and owned but many. I wonder what happened to them all.

For people, she seems to have considered a lot of people dear friends but I wonder how much they were in touch. The book leaves most of the really private parts alone. It is also a nice book. Very few bad things are said about anyone, and when bad things are mentioned, I have the feeling the target would actually agree.

Some of the most memorable quotes from the book:

The line that identifies her as an introvert long before that term became popular:
I needed, urgently, to be alone and come to terms with this incredible happiness.

About being taught various dances that could become useful in social funcitons:
We were also taught the Swedish Country Dance,
... which reminds me about a passage where a dancer returns her to her mother saying "You have taught her well how to dance, now teach her to speak."

The words of someone content:
There are few things more desirable than to be an acceptor and an enjoyer. You can like and enjoy almost any kind of food or way of life. You can enjoy country life, dogs, muddy walks; towns, noise, people, clatter. In the one there is repose, ease for nerves, time for reading, knitting, embroidery, and the pleasure of growing things. In the other theatres, art galleries, good concerts, and seeing friends you would otherwise seldom see. I am happy to say that I can enjoy almost everything.

Or:
I was always prepared to like the next thing that came along.

Sea travels stuck to her mind and later when flying becomes possible she describes flying as dull and boring. Still, I don't know if she really wanted to go back to sea considering her experiences with rough waters:
There is no gap in the world as complete as that between one who is sea-sick and one who is not.

Again, being happy for the simple things:
Nowhere in the world is there such a good breakfast as tinned sausages cooked on a primus stove in the desert in the early morning.
... or is that just being English?


About what is good with life:
I don’t like crowds, being jammed up against people, loud voices, noise, protracted talking, parties, and especially cocktail parties, cigarette smoke and smoking generally, any kind of drink except in cooking, marmalade, oysters, lukewarm food, grey skies, the feet of birds, or indeed the feel of a bird altogether. Final and fiercest dislike: the taste and smell of hot milk. I like sunshine, apples, almost any kind of music, railway trains, numerical puzzles and anything to do with numbers, going to the sea, bathing and swimming, silence, sleeping, dreaming, eating, the smell of coffee, lilies of the valley, most dogs, and going to the theatre.

And she used to word "haters" long before the Internet. This is still so true:
The minority of what I call ‘the haters’ is quite small, but, like all minorities, it makes itself felt far more than the majority does.

I wonder if this is I:
He read quickly, and seemed to have no preference whatsoever as to what he read: biographies, fiction, love stories, thrillers, scientific works, almost anything. He was like a starving man who would say that any kind of food is the same: you don’t mind what it is, you just want food. He wanted food for his mind.
... but I don't read love stories!

And finally a quote about speaking in public:
would have not exactly to make a speech, but to say a few words–a thing I had never done before. I cannot make speeches, I never make speeches, and I won’t make speeches, and it is a very good thing that I don’t make speeches because I should be so bad at them.
( )
  bratell | Dec 25, 2020 |
Reading this autobiography brought home to me that, while I am indeed a mystery fan, my love of Christie's books also stems from a liking of both her writing style and her personal viewpoints.

I don't read much nonfiction and when I do, I tend toward travel type books. So it may be my inexperience with autobiographies but this one struck me as unusual. Christie jumps around in time and interposes bits of personal philosophy or belief with anecdotes. She says quite openly towards the beginning that one of the things that elderly people like to do is remember and talk about their lives and that she was going to do this in book form rather than subjecting her family and friends to listening to a subject that would be boring to them. As such, it really is more of a memoir than an autobiography. ( )
  leslie.98 | Jan 15, 2020 |
Over 500 pages and I enjoyed each page. So much I didn't know about her life. She describes a happy childhood and a very close relationship with her mother. Encouraged to begin writing by her sister. So much interesting detail about her life. I Recommend this book to any one that wants to know Christie in her own words. ( )
  loraineo | Jun 23, 2019 |
I am finally finished! This is a long read, a rambling look back over Agatha Christie's life. It was less about her writing career and more about all the other interesting things she has done: served as a dispensing chemist during the first world war; travelled extensively in the Middle East.

Agatha writes it in 1st person, and very much her own style. It was like I could hear her speaking. I had to keep reminding myself that she finished it in 1965, as there were many references to things that made me think: 'if only she knew how things were now'. Her writing career is very much in the background of this autobiography, as she treated it so in her life. She didn't consider herself an author, she considered it just a sort of past-time which happened to make her money. She considered herself a 'married woman' first and foremost, which was very much a product of her era - being born in 1890. In fact her writing doesn't really get a mention until after the first 200 pages, after a rambling account of her childhood and the different places she stayed and things she did.

There are references to conversations and events written in French (as that was what they were spoken), which are not translated, as Agatha Christie lived in France for a time in her childhood so she could learn it fluently, and had a French companion/nanny as well. She also did this later in the book as she also used French when in the Middle East and I found it disappointing that the publisher didn't endeavour to provide a translation of them as you miss some bits of pieces - or that it didn't occur to her that a reader would not know French. (very much a product of her class and era).

Towards the end she discusses her novels and the writing in more detail, especially when she started to write plays, and it was interesting to think that she didn't consider herself as talented as such or that she had a gift. Her humble modesty is quite disarming.

Agatha Christie had an interesting and intriguing life, which is what keep me reading this rambling account. She would have been quite a person to have known. ( )
  purplequeennl | Jul 11, 2018 |
First published at Booking in Heels.

Agatha Christie wrote this autobiography in 1965, when she was 75 years old, but it wasn’t published until 1977, a year after her death at 85 years old.

I love this woman. I’ve always liked her work, as I’ve read (probably) most of her books by this point, but now I like her a lot as a person. She comes across as stubborn but kind-hearted. Very shy but loyal. You can tell she wrote it for herself, and not because her publishers wanted her to. It’s mostly chronological, but not quite. She does flit around a little, but in a natural, unforced way. If something pops up, she’ll talk about it there and then, instead of waiting for the correct time period 100 pages later. She never bothers to tell you what year it was or how old she was, but I almost like that. It feels so unforced. Towards the end she says, ‘I’m not going to bother tidying this book up too much. I’m too old for that *!@!.’ I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but that is almost definitely what she’s saying.

It takes a good two thirds of the book before she even picks up a pen, and about 3/4 before she properly starts with Poirot. This isn’t a book about her writing, not really, although of course it features (eventually). It’s mostly about her early life, and then later on she discusses her family life behind the scenes of the writing. Even then, the book stops shortly after the Second World War, when her life has settled down and ‘fame’ has just begun. She never even mentions being made a Dame, and only discusses meeting the Queen in passing. Don’t let that put you off though, it’s riveting.

A good quarter of the book is about her childhood. I usually hate that part in memoirs as I generally see it as completely irrelevant to whatever the subject is famous for, but here, I just loved it. Nothing about this book is boring. Honestly, every single part of this is fascinating. She worked in a hospital dispensary in both World Wars (hence the knowledge of poisons) and refused to leave her London bed during the air raids.

She writes so well – it doesn’t read like one of the detective novels at all. It’s denser, but still chatty. She’s very dry and very sarcastic at times, but usually not hardheartedly. I just feel I would have liked this woman. I like how she’s writing from the mid-sixties and she muses on how things have changed, like bikinis, airplanes, technology, etc.

It struck me how honest she was. Mistakes that she’s made and things that she’d do differently now. The only thing she doesn’t mention is the 1926 disappearance, when she vanished and turned up in Harrogate six days later.1 She talks about how her then husband couldn’t deal with the fact she was sad about her mother’s death because ‘I really can’t bear it when people are sad, you know that’, and her impending breadown after doing all the clearing out work herself, during which he promptly announced he wanted a divorce as he’d found someone else. Dick. I really dislike him. But then there’s no mention of the disappearance and we jump forward to February the following year. I’m not sure what the big mystery is anyway. She clearly just stomped off for a bit to sulk. Can’t say I blame her.

I’m glad she was happy at the end of her life though. She writes this book with the full understanding that she is a famous author. She loves her second husband dearly, she contributed to archaelogical discoveries, she had a close knit family she adored and her days of scrimping for pennies were over. She notes that she is not as fit and able as she used to be, but is grateful that her faculties are still mostly intact. She seemed like a good person and I’m glad that she was happy.

What did shock me was that I had no idea that Mary Westmacott was her, Agatha Christie. It was her pen name for her non-detective stories. I don’t know, I just feel like I should have known that already! I’ve just gone out of my way to find one of the original editions on eBay, one that doesn’t have ‘Agatha Christie’ emblazoned on it.

In short, I’m ridiculously grateful that I didn’t naively get rid of Agatha Christie: An Autobiography during one of my bookshelf purges. It’s engaging, clever and (for the most part) very honest. It’s probably quite insulting that the quote from Woman’s Own on the cover is, ‘the best thing she’s ever written,’ (never mind those seventy-odd other books, ey?) but I’m sure it was meant well. Because, honestly, it probably is my favourite thing she’s written. I loved this book. ( )
1 vote generalkala | Jun 16, 2018 |
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Epigraph
O! ma chere Maison; mon nid, mon gite
Le Passe l'habite...O! ma chere Maison
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Foreword: Nimrud is the modern name of the ancient city of Calah, the military capital of the Assyrians.
One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.
Preface: Agatha Christie began to write this book in April 1950; she finished it some fifteen years later when she was seventy-five years old.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Dame Agatha Christie sheds light on her secretive life and tells of her early years, her marriages and rise to success.

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The autobiography of Agatha Christe, started in 1950 and completed in 1965.
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Her life was an enchanting - but mysterious -affair of polished surfaces and unsolved riddles.

Her early days were spent in a safe nursery world of adoring Nannies and sunny gardens - her nights, haunted by dreams of a gunman without a name ...

She was a proper Victorian maiden - who admitted a taste for terror - and rode the Orient Express into adventure ....

For years, she lived quietly, the devoted wife and mother - but for eleven scandalous days in 1926, she vanished from the face of the earth.

To be a writer never entered her head - yet she became one of the most richly prolific and enduring authors of the past century .... She's the best-loved mistress of mystery - and now, for the first time, she unravels her own ...
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