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a meditation on celebrity and a riposte to Christie’s critics

Writer : Christopher Pittard, Senior Lecturer in English Literature, College of Portsmouth

Kenneth Brannagh’s adaptation of Dying on the Nile reminds us that Agatha Christie’s work will not be solely involved with English villages. Christie additionally drew on her travels within the Center East along with her husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan. Though most of her expertise was in Iraq and Syria, Christie was notably fascinated by Egypt.

The film has been launched to little fanfare, after severe allegations arose regarding one in all predominant actors, Armie Hammer. It’s the newest iteration following the 1944 stage play, an all-star film in 1978 and a tv adaptation as a part of the sequence Agatha Christie’s Poirot in 2004.

In 1937, the 12 months she wrote Dying on the Nile, Christie additionally wrote the play Akhnaton, concerning the pharaoh who tried to exchange Egypt’s non secular system of a number of gods with the worship of a single solar deity. Christie’s play was not printed till 1973 and he or she was extra keen on Dying on the Nile, which she thought: “among the finest of [her] ‘international journey’ ones.”

It’s troublesome to disagree with Christie’s evaluation. Dying on the Nile performs with the expectations of the reader of detective fiction, performs an audacious trick of notion, and permits Christie to replicate on the character of movie star, together with hers.

Remaking the whodunit

At first look, the novel attracts on a longtime Christie construction, acquainted from different tales like Homicide on the Orient Categorical. There’s homicide in an unique location with the Karnak cruise liner offering a setting with a closed circle of suspects. Regardless of this, it does problem any straightforward characterisation of Christie as formulaic.

Whereas most whodunits stage their murders within the first few chapters, Christie makes readers wait till nearly midway by the novel for the demise of the socialite Linnet Doyle. This enables Christie to develop a triangular romance plot between Linnet, her new husband Simon Doyle, and Simon’s ex-fiancee Jackie de Bellefort. It additionally raises the stress – readers can guess that Linnet would be the sufferer, however when?

Likewise, whereas many interwar detective novels ended with the promise of marriage, Dying on the Nile begins with an engagement, between Jacqueline and Simon. Then, within the subsequent chapter, we study that Simon has instantly married Jacqueline’s good friend Linnet as an alternative. The married couple board the Karnac in an try and keep away from Jacqueline and it’s right here {that a} story of romance and spurned love turns into a homicide thriller.

And probably the most ingenious twist (which I gained’t reveal right here) leads readers to query probably the most primary sequences of trigger and impact: does one motion actually result in what appears to be its fast end result? In contrast to different whodunits whose options depend on particulars of alibis or hidden motives, the brilliance of Christie’s novel is that it makes us query what now we have seen ourselves, which lends it particularly properly to movie adaptation. Christie’s twist activates the identical precept as cinema itself: the phantasm {that a} speedy sequence of static photos appear to maneuver seamlessly, with out viewers being conscious of any gaps.

Celeb tradition

However the novel emphasises one other sort of seeing. The primary theme of Dying on the Nile, and what makes it so acceptable for such a starry adaptation, is movie star.

The primary web page depicts Linnet being recognised on the street by two males. However Linnet’s fame comes solely from her inherited wealth – she is a forerunner of the trendy movie star who is known for being well-known.

The second chapter likewise begins with one other scene of movie star recognition – “That’s Hercule Poirot, the detective”, says one other character excitedly. However Poirot’s fame is earned; he’s identified for his feats of detection, not his inherited fortune.

Woman in ornamental headress talks.
Angela Landsbury as Salome Otterbourne within the 1978 movie adaptation of Dying on the Nile.
TCD/Prod.DB/Alamy Inventory Photograph

The novel even parodies literary movie star. One other passenger on the Karnak is Salome Otterbourne, a author of romance novels (in Branagh’s movie she’s a jazz singer). On assembly Poirot, Otterbourne complains that the outspoken realism of her novels makes them too controversial, and that she has been (in trendy utilization) “cancelled” by prudish librarians:

Sturdy meat – that’s what my books are – all necessary. Libraries banned – irrespective of! I converse the reality. Intercourse – ah! Monsieur Poirot – why is everybody so afraid of intercourse? The pivot of the universe! You could have learn my books?

After all, Poirot hasn’t, saying he has little time for studying fiction. Presumably, then, Poirot wouldn’t be a reader of Christie herself. All through the novel he makes feedback a few lack of realism in detective fiction.

However this scene can also be a riposte to Christie’s critics. The Observer’s assessment of her 1936 novel Playing cards on the Desk famous, considerably backhandedly, that it had “qualities of humour, composition and subtlety which we’d have thought past the attain of the author of The Mysterious Affair at Kinds”. Critics anticipated plot from Christie, however model and subtlety clearly got here as a shock.

In Dying on the Nile, printed the next 12 months, Christie pushes her model additional. When in comparison with her earlier novels, Dying on the Nile experiments with completely different tones of voice and kinds.

It’s tempting to see Otterbourne as Christie parodying herself. Nonetheless, Christie implies that Otterbourne’s potboiler romances are usually not the sufferer of an interwar “cancel tradition”, however merely unpopular with trendy readers – in contrast to Christie’s.

If the central concern of Dying on the Nile is the facility of unearned movie star, the novel’s ending emphasises such fame’s fragility. The ultimate paragraph returns to the lads who gossiped about Linnet at the start, and who’ve simply heard of her homicide. However “after some time they stopped speaking about her and mentioned as an alternative who was going to win the Grand Nationwide”.

The isolation of the cruise liner implies that the world solely hears about Linnet’s demise after Poirot has solved the case – it’s already previous information. The “demise” of Dying on the Nile refers not solely to literal homicide, however to the demise of movie star – of not being talked about. For Christie, movie star have to be earned by craft, and he or she secures her personal fame by the ingenuity of her plot on this novel.


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