Sparkling Cyanide (1945) by Agatha Christie

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It should be a literary crime to give rather ordinary mysteries such evocative titles as this, especially when there’s already a particularly intriguing blurb on the back to hook the reader in. I was decidedly underwhelmed by this book – unusually so for an Agatha Christie – and now I can’t decide whether it’s the fault of the book, the title or just the fact that I was pretty spaced out on Lemsip at the time of reading. Probably the latter. I’d already been in bed sick for two looong days by the time I reached for this; I was cranky, bored and lacking both the energy and the will to read anything too demanding on the old grey cells. Usually Christie is ideal at times like these but she didn’t really do the trick on this occasion. I suspect I’m being a trifle unfair.

Sparkling Cyanide reunites several acquaintances for a rather tense dinner party at the Hotel Luxembourg. Gathered together are staid businessman George Barton and his young ward Iris, George’s doting secretary, a mysterious American businessman, a devious politician and his dutiful but very posh trophy wife. They’re all there to mark the passing of George’s late wife Rosemary who very publicly committed suicide at this table in this restaurant in front of these very same guests a year previously. It’s a macabre excuse for a gathering and of course, of course one of the guests is poisoned during dinner in an almost exact recreation of Rosemary’s death. Of course.  

“I’d like to give these detective story writers a course of routine work. They’d soon learn how most things are untraceable and nobody ever notices anything anywhere!”

There’s no Poirot or Marple in this one and I missed them both. It’s down to George’s old friend Colonel Race to identify the killer and determine whether Rosemary may also have fallen foul of a sinister plot. He does a fair job, Colonel Race, but without the flair or humour I might have expected from his more regular counterparts. Overall this felt like a fairly formulaic mystery: the set up was quite laboured and there was less of the wit and double bluffing that Christie usually employs to liven up the more mundane stories. I did fall prey to one red herring for a time but in the end I’d more or less guessed the killer anyway and instead of feeling triumphant I was left with the flat, dissatisfied feeling I always get when I’ve been proven right. Ho hum.

In my headachey, fuzzy haze I took Christie’s failure to keep me sufficiently entertained too personally. I decided that if she couldn’t offer me something decent to read at this difficult time then I would just have to resort to something more reliably cheering. I reached for I Capture The Castle which appears to be my go-to book when I’m sick. I’m so predictable.

Top Ten Tuesday: Some Agatha Christie favourites

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and Bookish. 

This week’s TTT is a Halloween freebie. I don’t read a great many spooky things – and it’s still early days with those Victorian ghost stories – so I plumped instead for a murderous theme rather than a supernatural one. I know Christie isn’t particularly fashionable these days but I love a good, old fashioned Golden Era murder mystery, much, much more than their grim modern equivalents. Here are some of my favourites:

1. The Hollow (1946). On the face of it, this is a fairly typical example of the Christie country house murder but the characterisation is particularly good and the suspects are surprisingly sympathetic. I didn’t really want any of them to be guilty. Full review here.

2. The ABC Murders (1936). Christie takes a pretty silly premise – beginning with the murder of Alice Ascher in Andover – and turns it into something weirdly compelling. Is there an alphabetically obsessed serial killer on the loose? Or is it all a cover for something a bit darker?

3. Murder in Mesopotamia (1936). The murder here takes place amongst a remote community of archaeologists working on an ancient site in the middle of the Iraqi desert. I particularly enjoy Christie’s non-English settings and I remember finding this one particularly atmospheric.

4. Death Comes as the End (1944). A murder mystery set in ancient Egypt was always going to catch my eye. Christie’s expertise shines through and although it never feels particularly authentic I love the idea. Full review here.

5. Five Little Pigs (1942). Poirot is asked to solve a sixteen year old case by the daughter of a woman wrongly hanged for murder. I was pretty happy that I’d caught the murderer with this one, and then absolutely enraged when I got it wrong.

6. Death on the Nile (1937). The murder of a honeymooning heiress on a cruise down the Nile sparks Poirot’s investigation here. There’s some good double and triple bluffing in this one and it’s all so much more complicated than it may first appear.

7. Murder on the Orient Express (1934). Poirot is trapped in a train carriage full of suspects when an infamous child killer is found dead in his compartment. It’s wonderfully tense and another one of those morally ambiguous cases where you don’t really know whether you want the detective to succeed.

8. The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (1960).  A short story from late in Christie’s career, this one gets a mention because it was the very first of her works that I read. I was hooked.

9. Sleeping Murder (1976). It all rests on a fairly unbelievable coincidence; what are the chances of returning to the country of your birth and unwittingly buying the house in which your mother was murdered all those years before? But still, I like the creepiness of the first few chapters when Gwenda can’t quite work out why everything feels so familiar and so wrong at the same time.

10. A Pocket Full of Rye (1953). Christie takes her nursery rhyme references quite literally with this one; there is an actual pocket full of rye, some blackbirds baked in a pie and a ‘Queen ’ eating some bread and honey at the time of her death.

You’ll see that there are some notable omissions here, such as And Then There Were None, 4.50 From Paddington, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and so on. It isn’t that I don’t like them or rate them highly – just that I haven’t read them yet!

As always, recommendations are welcome 🙂

 

The Hollow (1946) by Agatha Christie

This book was ringing alarm bells in my memory from the start. It was only when I got to this scene…

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…that I remembered having watched the TV adaptation a few years ago. Bummer. I very nearly gave up right then – who wants to read a murder mystery when you already know who committed the dirty deed? – but I decided to continue and, with hindsight, it was absolutely the right decision. This isn’t a bad book at all.

At first glance, The Hollow is a pretty typical country house murder mystery; a group of friends gather at the home of a mutual acquaintance only for one of the party, the dazzling Doctor John Christow, to get bumped off near the swimming pool just before lunch. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? When famous detective Hercule Poirot stumbles on the murder scene moments after the shot rings out he’s immediately convinced that things are not all they appear. Is this a carefully staged scene arranged by the guests as part of the afternoon’s amusements? Or is there something more sinister at play here?

What I haven’t yet said, of course, is that by the time Poirot arrives on the scene the story has really been underway for quite some time already. It’s unusual for Christie to leave the arrival of the famous detective to such a late stage in the novel. I think I’d almost expect it of Miss Marple but for Poirot it seems quite out of character. Apparently – according to Wiki – Christie herself was irritated by Poirot’s tardiness and felt that his sudden appearance out of nowhere was jarring for the reader and spoiled the flow of the plot. I can’t say I agree but it did have the odd effect of making Poirot seem almost superfluous to his own story.

In spite of this, I have to say that I think this is one of the best Agatha Christie novels I’ve read in a little while. All the usual ingredients are here – the red herrings, the witty dialogue, the double bluff – but this time there seems to be an extra layer of character development and a more careful set up. The philandering Doctor Christow who, I suspect, would usually be condemned to only the briefest of introductions, is given a good few chapters of background story and there’s a reasonably thorough analysis of his relationships with some of the other characters. When they describe the late doctor as the most ‘alive’ man they ever knew, you can almost believe them.

The character development isn’t limited to just the victim and I was surprised to find that I really quite liked a few of the suspects. Usually Christie peppers her stories with some thoroughly nasty characters; people you can easily believe would be capable of committing the crime. But she doesn’t really do that here; on the whole they appear pretty harmless. I was particularly pleased with the victim’s mistress, the sculptress Henrietta Severnake, and the scatter-brained hostess, Lady Angkatell. They made me almost hope that there wouldn’t be a murderer after all, that whoever it was would somehow end up getting away with it.

It’s all very odd and not what I was expecting at all. But I enjoyed the twists and turns of this novel and wish there were more like it.

Top Ten Tuesday: My Literary Dinner Party

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week we were encouraged to visit/revisit some old TTT themes from months and years past… 

Top Ten Literary Dinner Party Guests is not (as far as I know) an old TTT theme. It’s one that I’ve just made up but it sounds like the real deal. The idea came about because of one of those silly late night conversations about which famous people, dead or alive, you’d invite to dinner. Except, last time we had this conversation I had a complete meltdown over it because I realised that a) I had too many guests I wanted to invite and b) the men far outnumbered the women (because ‘history’ is mean like that). In an effort to address the balance someone was going to get bumped off the guest list to make way for Eleanor of Aquitaine and I had a horrible feeling that it would end up being Rick Mayall and that, my friends, would have been a bloody travesty. Wouldn’t Mayall be more fun at a party? But wasn’t a strong female presence needed to balance out Oliver Reed? I agonised over my guest list for so long that P eventually turned out the light and went to sleep.

This, then, is a revised list made up of only authors, poets and playwrights. No Rick Mayall. No Queen Eleanor (I know they both wrote books but let’s just not go there, ok?). Here goes:

1. Oscar Wilde. I bet Oscar gets a lot of imaginary invites to imaginary dinner parties. He’d keep everyone entertained with his witty, entertaining conversation but I wonder if it’d wear a bit thin after a while?  

2. Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith is probably the coolest person I can imagine. I’d turn into the worst kind of grovelling fan if she came to my party.

3. Lord Byron. This could be the worst decision ever. Sure he’d be fun and I don’t particularly mind if the party descends into drunken debauchery under his influence since it’s an imaginary one and I won’t have to clean up afterwards…. But, what if he brings his bear? Or fires his pistols during the starters? Or tries to seduce Zadie? Byron’s a risk. But it might pay off.

4. Mikhail Bulgakov. Purely because I read A Country Doctor’s Notebook last week and I’d like some more of those stories please.

5. Mary Shelley. I’d like to hear all about her  elopement with Percy Shelley, those months in self-imposed exile on the continent, that evening creating horror stories with Byron and Polidori in Italy…. I imagine she’d have some brilliant (but possibly quite sad) stories.

6. Christopher Isherwood. Just because I love every book of his that I’ve read (which, admittedly, isn’t many) and I think they’re all beautiful. Plus, he was a very well travelled man so he’d have some great tales to tell.

7. George Eliot. I like reading about Eliot’s crazy life and her intense relationships with others and I’d happily spend a night hearing about it straight from the horses’s mouth. I bet she and Byron would get on pretty well.

8. Agatha Christie.Maybe Christie would use my party as inspiration for one of her stories, one in which an eclectic group of writers are mysteriously gathered together for no apparent reason and then they all start getting bumped off, one by one… hmm. No. Maybe not a good idea at all.

9. Terry Pratchett. Every good dinner party needs an opinionated, slightly mad (in a good way) guest.

10.  Zelda Fitzgerald. By all accounts, when Zelda was at her best she was intelligent, creative and high spirited; the perfect dinner guest. I’d try to invite her before the marriage though, when she was still Zelda Sayre, and had fewer cares in life.

There are some notable exceptions here: Austen (too prim), Dickens (he might bring everyone down by talking about social reform or something), Hemingway (Byron’s enough for one night)…. What do you think? Have I missed anyone vitally important?!

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928) by Dorothy L. Sayers

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“Books… are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with ’em, then we grow out of ’em and leave ’em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.”

I didn’t plan on reading this but I finished Perfume last week and the copy of The Quickening Maze I’d ordered was taking ages to arrive at the library. This seemed like a nice way of filling the time while I waited. Of course, no sooner had I checked out The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and walked back to my office then my phone pinged with the notification that my requested library book had arrived and was now awaiting collection. Not to worry. I can’t say that being forced to read some Dorothy L. Sayers in the meantime is any sort of hardship.

This is only the second of Sayers’ books that I’ve read so I’m still a very new convert.  This one doesn’t begin as a murder mystery but as a discreet investigation into the death of Old General Fentiman, who passes away quietly in his armchair by the fire at his gentleman’s club, The Bellona. His lawyer calls in Lord Peter Wimsey, the suave aristocratic detective, to determine a precise time of death and thus avert a legal dispute over the General’s estate. The case is of particular importance to Lord Peter as one of the legatees is his friend George Fentiman, whose mental health and livelihood are both at stake if the time of death is decided unfavourably. It takes a few twists and turns, this story, but I think most readers will guess pretty early on that the old General didn’t die quite as peaceably as Sayers leads us to believe at the beginning.

You can tell that this is a little earlier in the series and in Sayers’ writing career: it’s not quite as polished as The Nine Tailors, the plot ambles along slowly at times and there’s not nearly enough Bunter in it. This last one is probably the worst crime of all. Her scene setting is pretty perfect though and I can never get enough of the dialogue, particularly any scene in which Wimsey uses the phrases “What rot!”, “Jolly good!” or (my personal favourite) “Bung ho!”. He brings such humour to everything, without spoiling the sombre mood.

“Take him away!” said Fentiman, “Take him away. He’s been dead two days! So are you! So am I! We’re all dead and we never noticed it!” 

I love the fact that Sayers’ characters are not merely plot devices, as Christie’s can be sometimes. Few of the characters in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club are black and white, nor are they as wicked as you might suspect at the beginning. George Fentiman is the first to spring to mind here. I imagine it would’ve been quite easy for Sayers to portray George quite simply as a comic figure, a misogynistic brute and a layabout, but instead she treats the emotive subject of his shell shock and poverty with real feeling. Lord Peter’s sympathy with George, and his reluctance to involve himself in the case at all, is quite touching.

I guessed the culprit before the end (just as I did last time) but I didn’t really mind. More shocking, I thought, wasn’t the unmasking of the villain but the way in which Wimsey dealt with the situation.  These were very different times indeed.

Death Comes As The End (1945) by Agatha Christie

Death Comes as the End

I have a little pile of old Agatha Christie paperbacks that I turn to every now and again when I’m stuck for ideas or just want something quick and easy to read. I don’t tend to hang on to them afterwards, most get returned to the Oxfam shop when I’m done, but I’m tempted to keep this one, just because it’s a little bit weird. And that makes me like it.

Some of Christie’s standalone novels have ended up becoming fast favourites so I was all geared up to like this one from the start. As an added bonus, this one is set in the Middle East and has a bit of a historic bent, just like Murder in Mesopotamia which I have very tender memories of. As far as I’m aware Death Comes as the End is the only one with a non-contemporary setting and in fact I thought that made it sound pretty interesting in itself. Plus, it’s Agatha Christie and I am yet to ever find myself bored by one of her mysteries. It’s just never going to happen.

This strange little book is set in Egypt in 2000BC and centres on a bickering family who are thrown into turmoil when the patriarch takes a new wife. The beautiful Nofret makes herself unpopular from the start so when her body is discovered at the bottom of a cliff she’s not mourned by her step-children. Soon, however, the bodies are piling up and it’s clear that there’s a murderer in their midst. I’m always reassured when there’s a high death count as I sometimes think that Christie is at her best when she’s extreme, when everyone dies or everyone is guilty.

In some respects this is probably quite an ordinary mystery. You could play these events out in an English country house in the 1920s and you’d just need to remove some references to pyramids, hieroglyphs and gods for it all to make perfect sense. But it’s well constructed, as you would expect: the plot is tight, there’s an interesting cast of wicked and unlikeable suspects, some clever misdirection and a nice little reveal at the end. I never quite shook off the expectation that Poirot would waddle in to solve the murder but in the end the mystery was solved by the very character I had pegged as the murderer….. Ha.

If I had to find something to criticise about this one I’d say that the Egyptianness sometimes felt a little forced, a bit like she’d shoehorned in some stuff about pyramids and the Nile to make it feel more authentic. I enjoyed this book too much to dwell on it very much though.

To finish, here’s a photo from the inside cover of my copy of this book:

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I hope Rose had a nice time wherever she went (Egypt maybe?).

The Monogram Murders (2014) by Sophie Hannah

MonogramI was a bit dubious about reading this, I have to admit it.  Hercule Poirot is without doubt my favourite fictional detective so I was pretty scathing about the idea that another author would even attempt to write a Poirot mystery. But my colleague (who’s also a big Agatha Christie fan) had already read this and she swore it wasn’t half bad. And since I value her opinion on all things bookish (this is the same colleague who kicked off The Forsyte Saga craze that swept our office a few years ago) I decided I’d have to give it a go after all. We agreed on a swap; her copy of The Monogram Murders in exchange for my tatty ex-library copy of The Moving Finger . I got the better deal obviously.  The Monogram Murders, although flawed, is actually a more entertaining read (sorry Agatha).

The mystery all centres around three dead bodies which are discovered carefully laid out in separate rooms of the Bloxham Hotel in London, each with a monogrammed cufflink placed inside the mouth. It’s 1929 and the famous detective Hercule Poirot is in temporary retirement but he joins forces with Inspector Catchpool of Scotland Yard to investigate. Poirot is convinced the murders are related to his encounter with a mysterious woman in a coffee shop on the same night of the murders, a woman who swore that she was in danger for her life but begged that her murderers not be apprehended. Catchpool isn’t convinced.

Oh Catchpool. How the heck did he make it through detective school?  Poirot has had to put up with some sidekick dunces in his time but Catchpool really takes the biscuit. I got a bit fed up with his little flashbacks, his whinging, his failure to see the obvious right before his eyes… not to mention the fact that he’s so afraid of looking at the bodies in the hotel that he abandons the crime scene and goes home. Surely that’s not what detectives are supposed to do? Scotland Yard’s finest? Yeah right.

If we leave the inept Catchpool aside, this book is actually very readable and I think Hannah does a great job of reimagining the little Belgian detective. Hercule Poirot is such a well-known figure, famous for his characteristic little foibles and unique turns of phrase, that recreating him was always going to be difficult. But Hannah clearly did her research and I think she convincingly brings him back to life. To me her character always felt like Poirot, mainly because she’d taken a lot of care to include all those little traits that he’s known for. I thought the neatness was perhaps a little over exaggerated, and the dialogue of other characters didn’t always feel authentic, but on the whole everything was there that I expected to be there. Except the casual 1920s bigotry of course. I’m not sure Christie could have included a central character like Signor Luca Lazzari without using him as an excuse to have a pop at the Italians.

Maybe I’m just too harsh on Christie sometimes.

The real problem with this novel isn’t with Poirot but with the mystery, which I’m not sure is worthy of Christie. It’s a clever idea but I don’t think Hannah weaves it altogether with the same skill. The hints aren’t subtle enough, the red herrings are too few and far between and the real clues just a little too obvious. With an original Agatha Christie novel the killer almost always ends up being someone you’ve not even considered or, if it is someone obvious, she throws in a clever twist that you didn’t see coming instead. In contrast, I can’t say that I was ever surprised by The Monogram Murders. I almost always felt like I knew which way the story was heading. It was clever, but just not quite clever enough.

I’m very glad I read this though, just because it’s nice to see someone new have a stab (sorry) at such a familiar character. For all its faults it did really have me gripped for a good few days.

Apologies if this review is not up to my usual standards (whatever they may be). I’ve been in bed with a nasty, shivery cold for the past few days and concentrating on writing this has been the most exertion I’ve had in a while. I’ve spent all my weekend curled up in bed watching rugby, property makeover shows and old episodes of The Adam & Joe Show on 4 OD. I’m now going to make myself a Lemsip and return to my room. Night all.

The Moving Finger (1943) by Agatha Christie

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After my recent Dumas-a-thon I thought I’d reward myself with a few weeks of easy, short reads. As much as I enjoyed The Count Of Monte Cristo, it can be kind of knackering reading the same mammoth book day after day. I’m not sure why that is; it’s not like I was reading any more than I would normally do. But in any case, I fancied something unchallenging and when it comes to gripping, easy-to-read books Agatha Christie is my go-to gal.

The Moving Finger is narrated by Jerry Burton, an injured airman sent to recuperate in the countryside after a nasty plane crash. He and his sister Joanna choose the quiet village of Lymstock and settle down in a little cottage for some peace and tranquillity while Jerry regains his strength. It soon transpires, however, that Lymstock is not the rural idyll they’d imagined and they’re intrigued to hear that over the past few months an anonymous letter writer has been terrorising its residents. It isn’t long before Jerry receives one of these poison pen letters himself. When a neighbour commits suicide after receiving a similarly vicious note it becomes vitally important that the writer is caught. Who is writing the letters? And will they resort to murder to cover their tracks?

It’s pretty lucky for the residents of Lymstock that the vicar’s wife knows a lovely old lady who’s got a good eye for solving crimes. I must say, however, that Miss Marple takes her own sweet time getting there. It’s the weird thing about Marple novels; half the time she’s not even in them. Maybe Christie was worried the old dear would get tired from too much exertion? Or maybe the whole point is that she succeeds only after everyone else has failed? Good old Marps.

This book was pretty much exactly what I was hoping it would be: entertaining, neatly, plotted, full of sneaky red herrings and clever twists. There isn’t ever a great deal of description or character development of course but I always love the dialogue, particularly gems like this little exchange between Jerry and the aforementioned vicar’s wife about the anonymous letters:

“Have you – er – had any yourself?” 

“Oh yes, two – no three. I forget exactly what they said. Something very silly about Caleb and the schoolmistress, I think. Quite absurd because Caleb has absolutely no taste for fornication. He never has had. So lucky, being a clergyman.” 

“Quite,” I said, “Oh quite.” 

I’ve seen the TV adaptation of this particular novel but I have no long term memory and I couldn’t quite remember the identity of the culprit. I’m always rubbish at guessing anyway; I’d make a terrible detective.

My only real criticism of this book is that I didn’t like the romantic aspect of the story at all. I know it’s a mystery and the romance is just an annoying sideline but still, there was something just a little weird about it. It was making me uncomfortable. I’m sure to readers of the time it would’ve been perfectly lovely but I’m so glad that these sentiments aren’t quite as common as they used to be:

What a nice child she was, I thought. So pleased with everything, so unquestioning, accepting all my suggestions without fuss or bother…. 

[And later:]

But I was not giving up. Oh no! She was my woman and I was going to have her. 

Wowzers. I’m pretty good at filtering out this sort of stuff (a book is a product of its time after all, right?) but that doesn’t make it any nicer to read.

Besides Jerry’s casual misogyny there isn’t a great deal to complain about with this book. I’m not sure it’ll become my favourite Agatha Christie mystery but it was a nice enough way of passing my lunch break and a couple of train journeys.

Top Ten Tuesday: My favourite female characters (some of whom are also introverts…)

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke And The Bookish. This week there was no set topic, I was free to choose my own… 

This started out as just a plain old list of some of my favourite female characters in literature but it got out of hand pretty quickly…. I kept thinking about how much I hate it when writers think that a female character has to be ‘feisty’ in order to be interesting. I mean, honestly, that word is overused. I can’t see it or hear it without wanting to headbutt something.

It makes me wonder about all the introverts out there who aren’t represented in fiction. Why don’t we get a look in? Can you have a strong, interesting female character who isn’t (urgh) ‘feisty’? Or are the thoughtful, more reserved, characters destined to always be the weak and simpering damsels in distress?

Eventually I decided I was being a bit unfair on the world of literature, partly because it turns out that quite a few of the characters on my list fall somewhere towards the ‘introvert’ end of the spectrum. Clearly they do exist. It got me to thinking though, are they on my list because there’s something more relatable about characters who have more going on inside? Or am I just drawn to characters who seem a little more like me?

And then I started to wonder, why does everything have to be so black and white? Why should any character be an extrovert or an introvert? Or clever or stupid? Or kind or cruel? Aren’t the best characters the ones who are a little bit of everything and nothing and one thing one day and another the next? The ones who are like actual people.

And then I thought: Stop it, just write the list….

1, Cassandra Mortmain in I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. The first time I read this book I felt like I’d known Cassandra forever. Her narration is so easy to read and she’s so likeable that it’s impossible not to get swept up in her life. Like any normal human being she’s sometimes surprised by her own feelings. I like that.

2, Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. There’s something about Esther that makes me uneasy but I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on what it is. I suspect it’s possibly because she’s so perfectly written that you almost feel like you are descending into the darkness with her. It’s quite unsettling.

3, Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. She doesn’t have much to say for herself but there’s so much going on under the surface with Jane. I love the fact that she absolutely insists on doing what she thinks is right, in spite of all the entreaties from the man she loves and even though she knows it will make them both bitterly unhappy. It’s hard not to respect that (even if you do kind of want to give her a good shake…).

4, Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. No introduction needed. I’m pretty sure we can all agree that Hermione is the best character in HP, right?

5, Dorothea Brooke in Middlemarch by George Eliot. I won’t lie, I hated Dorothea for ages. She comes across as very self-righteous in the beginning but you eventually learn that she just wants to feel like her life has some value. She’s full of so many worthy intentions but she makes some really daft choices.

6, Dinah Glass in The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross. Without Dinah that wicked headmaster would be ruling the world by now and then where would we be? Huh? That little girl kicked ass.

7, Miss Marple in the Miss Marple books by Agatha Christie. Never underestimate Marple, that’s the first rule of book club. She sees, hears and understands everything, all over a nice cup of tea and a piece of fruit cake on the lawn. The old dear runs rings around all those patronising, young detectives.

8, Amy March in Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott. I know Jo and Beth get all the love and I admit they’re pretty great but I think Amy deserves a little recognition. She’s vain and whingey and has a weird obsession with limes that I’ve never understood….. She’s not as placid as Beth and Meg, nor as fiercely independent as Jo, but you could argue that she matures, and learns, the most over the course of the novel. She’s a nicer person at the end of it.

9, Guinevere Pettigrew in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson. I’m ridiculously fond of this book and of Miss Pettigrew, the downtrodden, middle-aged governess who turns up for a job interview and gets caught up in a glamourous whirlwind of parties, filmstars, nightclubs and fashion shows. It’s silly but I’m always thrilled for poor Miss Pettigrew. I’m glad she gets to have some fun for once.

10, Estella in Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I’m usually a bit dismissive of Dickens’ female characters but I’ll make an exception for Estella (and Miss Havisham too in fact). I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for Estella, I feel sorry for her. There’s a bit at the end of the book where she says to Pip, “Suffering has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken but I hope into a better shape…” It’s practically my favourite thing ever. 

So there we have it, some of my favourite female characters. Is there anyone you’d add to the list? Who have I missed? (Besides Elizabeth Bennett obviously!).

In the interests of fairness I may well devote my next TTT freebie to my favourite men in fiction!

Top Ten Tuesday: Most read authors

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke And The Bookish. This week’s theme is all about the authors I’ve read most.

I had a wee break from TTT because I found the last two topics a little tricky, a bit too niche for my reading/blogging habits. This week’s theme is more general so you’d think it’d be easier, wouldn’t you? My trouble is that although I like to think I’ve read books by a wide variety of authors, I don’t tend to read more than two or three books by any one of them. In reading terms I like to get around a bit. I’m a commitment-phobe.

1 Enid Blyton. Famous Five, Mallory Towers, Noddy…. I read them all. But not Secret Seven. Eurgh. I hated Secret Seven. Favourite: The Hollow Tree House.

2 Charles Dickens. I don’t want to sound like a stuck record but Dickens is one of the only authors I go back to again and again. I’ve read eight of his novels and some short stories too. Favourite: Probably Our Mutual Friend.

3 J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter was one of those very rare occasions when I read an entire series all the way through from beginning to end. It may only have been possible because I spread it out over fifteen years but still, quite an achievement in my eyes. Favourite: Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire.

4 Agatha Christie. When I’m feeling lazy, or I really just don’t know what to read, I turn to Christie. I’ve read so many over the years that the titles, plots and characters are starting to blur a little. Favourite: Murder On The Orient Express.

5 Roald Dahl. No surprises here. I had the complete set. I read them all. Repeatedly. Favourite: Either The Enormous Crocodile or The Fantastic Mr Fox…… or maybe Matilda.

6 Margaret Atwood. My old roommate was responsible for getting me completely hooked on Margaret Atwood. I never finished the Oryx and Crake series so one day I’ll go back and do that…. I hope. Favourite: The Blind Assassin.

7 Jacqueline Wilson. I read tons of these as a child and then read a load more when I was trying to finish the BBC Big Read. They were great. Favourite: Double Act.

8 Winston Graham. I discovered the Poldark books while I was staying at my grandparents’ house in Sussex one summer when I was about 12. Over three successive summers I read them all. Favourite: Ross Poldark.

9 Judy Blume. She understood teenagers. ‘nuff said. Favourite: Superfudge at first, Deenie when I was a bit older.

10 Graham Greene. I’m scraping the barrel with this one since I’ve only read four GG books, but that’s still more than I have most other authors. I got a bit obsessed with Graham Greene for a while. Favourite: Brighton Rock.