Saturday, 12 July 2014

900th entry: Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

published 1945






He ripped open the envelope with some annoyance, having taken the letter into his study. Pages. Simply pages.

As he read, the old enchantment swept over him again. She adored him, she loved him more than ever, she couldn’t endure not seeing him for five whole days. Was he feeling the same? Did the Leopard miss his Ethiopian?

He half-smiled, half-sighed. That ridiculous joke – born when he had bought her a man’s spotted dressing-gown that she had admired. The Leopard changing his spots, and he had said “But you mustn’t change your skin, darling.” And after that she had called him Leopard and he had called her his Black Beauty.

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Various unwanted clothes, Iris knew, had been packed away in a trunk upstairs. She started hunting through it… It was then that she came across an old dressing gown that had belonged to Rosemary and which had somehow or other escaped being given away with the rest of Rosemary’s things. It was a mannish affair of spotted silk with big pockets.

Iris shook it out, noting that it was in perfectly good condition. Then she folded it carefully and returned it to the trunk. As she did so, her hand felt something crackle in one of the pockets. She thrust in her hand and drew out a crumpled-up piece of paper. It was in Rosemary’s handwriting and she smoothed it out and read it.
Leopard darling, you can’t mean it…. You can’t – you can’t…. We love each other! We belong together!



[Note: These two excerpts come the other way round in the book, because of the flashback format.] 

observations: Rosemary had an adulterous affair, caused a lot of trouble, and died at a party in her honour: this was filed as suicide, but we obviously know better. It’s her sister Iris who finds the dressing gown and letter, which add to her feeling that there's something wrong. There’s a lot more to come.

I think this is one of the top 10 of Christie’s books. The individual characters are very well done: the trick that Stephen Farringdon plays on his future wife, the fact that every brooding character in the book is gazing at someone else, and probably knows more than they’re supposed to. The original victim, Rosemary, is just seen in glimpses, but she is real too, and so is her grief over her lover. As ever, Christie is very good at creating an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust. The people in the book could be stock characters – rich or lazy or manipulative or ambitious or dimwitted – but they are not: this is a memorable and uneasy tale.

When I started Clothes in Books, I made an initial list of favourite clothes scenes in books that I hoped to illustrate, and this was one of them. I have searched and searched for the right dressing gown, and never quite found it – but this picture, with its spotted robe, the couple kissing, the cigarettes, seemed to have the right louche atmosphere for the adulterous pair. And so I am delighted to offer it as the 900th entry.

For anyone interested, other items on the original wishlist were Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes (the whole book just about, from Pauline’s black velvet to the audition dress jap linings at one and six three a yard, plus most of the rest of the Streatfeild oeuvre as well); Michael Arlen’s The Green Hat; endless Nancy Mitford, but particularly Fanny’s fur hat and Schiaparelli cardigan




Anne of Green Gables and the puff sleeves; Nancy Mitford (again) putting Evelyn Waugh right about jewellery fashion; and the marriages of Jane Eyre and Harriet D Vane (still haven’t found the gold lame wedding dress, but got it into this Guardian blog piece).


The top picture is from the Library of Congress.

33 comments:

  1. Moira - Congratulations on 900 entries! Here's many, many more. And this really is a fine example of Christie's work. The premise is interesting and of course, those dinner scenes are memorable. I thought it interesting that Yellow Iris, Christie's short story on which this is based, is similar in so many ways, and yet different. It's as though Christie was experimenting with ideas, and I find that a fascinating insight into her character.

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    1. I must go and read Yellow Iris: I read it years ago, but I like your idea of using comparison to get insight - it's the academic in you! And thanks for the kind words.

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  2. Moira, many congratulations on your 900 posts! Yours is one of the most imaginative blog themes I've come across. It's not easy to sustain a theme post every single day as you do, While I have read many novels by Agatha Christie, a couple of years ago I decided to read them chronologically from the start; at present, the project is on the backburner and I hope to revive it.

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    1. Prashant, thank you so much for the compliments, One of the great pleasures of doing the blog has been meeting such great people, like yourself, online! I think you should get back on the Christie path - it will make a nice contrast to some of your other reading....

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    2. Thank you for the kind words, Moira.

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  3. Moira: Congratulations on 900! You have established a worldwide reputation for excellence in blogging on books and clothes.

    As for the image of a men's spotted dressing gown image how about Jack Nicholson in http://tallpaleandawesome.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/jack.jpg?
    It may not be your image but I think you will find it memorable.

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    1. Thank you Bill, I love the idea of my worldwide reputation. I have always longed for international stardom, and now it is mine! and that is a quite extraordinary picture - Nicholson is so wonderful, and that is indeed quite the robe.

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  4. Congratulations, Moira. Very much enjoyed this. Must reread Sparkling Cyanide - though half way through I will probably remember who did it.

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    1. Thank you Christine.... yes it's an unlikely but very fairly done solution. And I think the atmosphere of the book - regret, memories, secrets and sadness - is very well done.

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  5. 900 entries! Just amazing. Where do you get the energy? I agree with Prashant, it is admirable that you can keep this theme going... You have opened my eyes to the importance of clothes in books.

    Since you rate this book so high and it is not in one of the series, I should get to reading it soon. Last year I read a lot of Christie, but none yet this year.

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    1. Thank you for Tracy for your kind words. I enjoy doing the blog so much. I hope you'll enjoy Sparkling Cyanide - it always impresses me. I too read a fair bit of Christie last year and much less this year, don't know why.

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  6. 900! Congratulations, Moira. I just checked and I'm on 273 so a lot of catching up to do.

    You're always fun to read, so I hope you've got at least another 900 in you.

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    1. Thanks so much, Rich, how kind. I'm quite shocked at the idea I've done 900, it doesn't feel as onerous as that sounds....

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  7. Congratulations. Wonderful headline image. I recall liking this one, although it isn't in my top group. I'll have to look at it again. It appeared in the period when she was writing her more "serious" mysteries.

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    1. I think this one grew on me, over many re-readings. I would like at some point to actually try to pin down my top 5 and top 10 - I always like to read other people's (in all categories, not just Christie).

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  8. What a lovely anniversary - and yes, I too craved all of the wardrobe from Noel Streatfield. Amazing, when you think that most of their dresses were made from curtains etc.

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    1. I know - it was something about the managing, about turning something cheap or throwaway into something beautiful... I liked the thought that that was possible.

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  9. Please do. I'd love to know.

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  10. Oh, go on then. We are talking just about the sainted Agatha, are we? Shall we go for the top five? Not necessarily the best, but our favourites?

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    1. Yes, great, let's say five favourite AC's, and each do a post then link to each other. I could do it next week, how about you?

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  11. Great post, as ever, Moira, and many congrats on reaching 900!

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  12. Congrats - shame about the book choice! Haha

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    1. thanks for the message, and for making me laugh as ever.....

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  13. How about Thursday 24th? That'll give us some time to think about it.

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    1. Yes that sounds great. I'll let you know when mine's up and we can cross-link. Am already thinking hard....

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  14. A belated but genuine congratulations on your 900th entry Moira, you've made quite an impression on me and my attention paid to descriptions of clothing in books. I'm reading Chris Mullins A VERY BRITISH COUP (no it's not even a crime novel) at the moment and the main character is introduced via his clothing - I don't think I'd have paid the slightest attention to that once upon a time but it really did help fix an image of the man in my mind as I read.

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    1. Thanks so much Bernadette - and once you start thinking about clothes in books, you can't stop noticing them, that's for sure. As I say above, one of the nicest things about the blog is meeting such lovely people, like you and all the kind friends above....

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  15. Congratulations on 900! This is one of my favourite Christies, I suspect because I love restaurant scenes, but also because it's a great puzzle.

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    1. Thank you. And yes, exactly, I love those scenes with them all around the table, and the unlikely significance of the round table. It's a good one.

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  16. Thanks. This is curious. My father, who was very opposed to racism liked Carr's books. However, I don't know which ones he read as I wasn't paying enough attention in those days.

    I just purchased a book of his for a relative, and I hope it was all right.

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    1. I think the book was very unusual - I have read many books by JDC and never noticed any other problem. He is much less prone to racism, normally, than many of his contemporaries.

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