"Let me see that evening dress once more," said Katherine- "the pinky mauve one."
Virginie appeared, circling slowly.
"That is the prettiest of all," said Katherine, as she surveyed the exquisite draperies of mauve and grey and blue. "What do you call it?"
"Soupir d'automne; yes, yes, that is truly the dress of Mademoiselle."
What was there in these words that came back to Katherine with a faint feeling of sadness after she had left the dressmaking establishment?
“’Soupir d'automne; that is truly the dress of Mademoiselle.'" Autumn, yes, it was autumn for her. She who had never known spring or summer, and would never know them now. Something she had lost never could be given to her again. These years of servitude in St. Mary Mead - and all the while life passing by.
"I am an idiot," said Katherine. "I am an idiot. What do I want? Why, I was more contented a month ago than I am now."
observations: When I wrote about a fashion makeover scene in Christie’s The Moving Finger last month (as part of poison pen week on the blog) my good blogging friend Vicki/Skiourophile pointed out that was a very enjoyable similar transformation scene in this book – see her excellent review of Blue Train here.
It is the book AC was writing at the time of her marriage breakdown, and the strange incident of her disappearance. She said it was the worst book she ever wrote, and that she never re-read it. But perhaps she should have – it’s not that bad at all, and is going to take two entries to deal with fully. The mean way of putting it is to say that Christie certainly wrote worse books.
It is not perfect. It is long, and after the initial scenes on the train becomes unnecessarily leisurely – it’s not clear why the investigation is spread over such a long time. Unusually for Christie, there is really only one crime going on, not the usual collection of sub-crimes which hide the main one and confuse the investigation and add greatly to the joys of reading. Then there is a bizarre moment when half the cast collect at a tennis match in the south of France – but they might as well be walking down the street in London. Poirot says at one point ‘all eyes are on the tennis’ but that is literally the only mention of the venue or the game – it’s very difficult to place where the characters are and what they are doing. Blue Train perhaps needed one more edit by her, at a time when she couldn’t face it – perhaps she hustled it off to the publisher.
Someone is described as ‘A bounder, and worse than a bounder’ which at least challenges the imagination.
The heroine, Katherine Grey comes from St Mary Mead, some time before Christie assigned Miss Marple to live in the village, and it is firmly placed in Kent.
Clothes play their part in the book – there is some hiding and disguising. I was sorry not to be able to find a picture to illustrate Mirelle: ‘wrapped in a sand-coloured velvet wrap trimmed with leopard skin.’ And there is a lovely vignette of an old lady complaining about her maid ‘with skirts up to her knees and silk stockings that ladder when you look at them, and the most ridiculous shoes that ever I set eyes on…’ Like this, perhaps, a photo used for Javier Marias’s book All Souls:
More on the train aspects, and the TV version of the book, in another entry soon.
More train books: Strangers on a Train, which went from Highsmith to Hitchcock, and children’s classic The Railway Children.
The top picture, from the NYPL, is of a 1920s gown actually called Hiver Approche (winter approaches) so it seems fair enough for Soupir d’Automne (autumn sigh).
There are many, many entries on Agatha Christie all over the blog: click on the label below.