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Breaking Down Nemesis: Part Six

  • Posted on September 7, 2014 at 9:20 pm

Welcome to part six of Breaking Down Nemesis! Part Five ended at the end of Miss Marple’s first day of her tour, gifted by the dead Mr. Rafiel. She’d been vaguely introduced to fourteen people who would be sharing space with her, and confirmed another part of our Agatha Christie Code.  For those of you just joining us, Part One explains the Agatha Christie Code, and what we’re looking for to confirm it.

I’ve finally figured out what has been bothering me with the last few chapters. And to be honest, it’s what we’re looking for in the first place, so I’m not sure WHY I didn’t notice it before! You see, Homestuck had this same situation. The beginning was so boring, and lifeless, that I almost quit that too! In fact, I did, for several years! And then, I came back, reread it all, and got past the parts I thought were boring, and managed to delve into the meat of the story! I’m glad I did reread it too, because it had a lot of content that made future bits make more sense!

Now, often people compare Homestuck and Agatha Christie novels, because people believe that Homestuck follows the Agatha Christie Code. So, I stuck it out, and kept reading Nemesis. And it turns out that Nemesis is following the same key! The intro is long, descriptive, and can sometimes be considered boring, but is full of rich information that one needs in order to understand the later plot.

In fact, in this chapter, we begin to learn more about those around us, which is going to come in handy later, I’m sure. The chapter begins in a Queen Anne Manor House. For those who don’t know what those are, Queen Anne Manor Houses, are a type of architecture popular during Queen Anne’s reign in Britain (1702-1714). It’s a type of Baroque architecture,  noted for it’s grand, yet simple designs.

A Queen Anne Manor House

A Queen Anne Manor House

In fact, one of the guests on Miss Marple’s tour, Mr. Richard Jameson, is an architect who happens to be in love with the style. In fact, he’s hijacked the entire tour in order to go on and on about it, pointing out things like special moulding on fireplaces, and historical references similar to the ones I just gave you.

The tour-guide gets a little tired of it, and declares that in the next room, the White Parlour, was where they found the body. However, before you think that this is the murder that Miss Marple is to put to rights, he is quick to inform you that it was in the 1700s, and begins to tell the tale.

A young man, with a dagger through the heart, right on the hearthrug. The Lady Moffat of the day, had a lover, and when he came through a small side door and down a steep staircase, Sir Richard Moffat, her husband, caught them together.

Mrs. Butler, the american woman, declares it absolutely romantic, and her husband begins to inform everyone that she’s ‘sensitive to atmospheres’. I take this to be old-timey speak for psychic. Miss Marple, along with a few others, quickly make their escape, before Mrs. Butler and her husband can swindle them all out of their pocket cash.

Miss Cooke and Miss Barrow have followed her, and Miss Marple manages to explain that an old friend of hers had a nerve-racking experience with a dead body on her library floor one morning. While discussing it, Miss Marple recounts that the dead body had been a young woman in an evening dress. In fact, she’d dyed her hair as well.

And this triggers the memory of having met Miss Cooke! I knew that name was familiar! See? It pays to keep attention on previous bits. Now Miss Cooke has in fact dyed her hair! It was dark, but now she’s blonde! Maybe she did it because blondes have more fun? However, Miss Marple doesn’t bring it up. She doesn’t have time.

Mrs. Riseley-Porter interrupts, declaring she can’t go up or down any more stairs, and decides that everyone is going to take a tour around the garden instead. Since she was an authoritative old lady, she got her way, and Miss Marple, Miss Cooke, Miss Barrow, and Colonel Walker all headed to the garden, where Miss Marple took a seat.

Miss Elizabeth Temple followed her, and the two old ladies bond over how boring the lecture in the house was. Which of course, leads into a discussion about the tragedy of when people die young. Miss Marple argues that it is a tragedy, and that they miss so much. Miss Temple argues instead, that they miss nothing, for they are dead.

“What did T. S. Eliot say: The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew tree are of equal duration.”

I greatly like this quote, and I feel it would be something that people were forced to learn in school. It makes a very good argument towards Miss Temple’s side of things, of course. Which is, perhaps, the reason Miss Agatha chose it!

An awkward conversation leads to Miss Temple asking Miss Marple to guess why she is here. We discover that Miss Temple is on a self-imposed pilgrimage Whatever that means to her, of course. Luckily, this leads to a conversation about Mr. Rafiel, and we find out another interesting tidbit!

Miss Temple was acquainted with a girl who DATED Mr. Rafiel’s son! Again, I’m relatively sure that Miss Marple needs to find out what happened to Mr. Rafiel’s son. Also, I wish I had another name to call him besides Mr. Rafiel’s son, because that gets very tiresome. Anyway, it turns out that the girl was engaged to Mr. Rafiel’s son, but didn’t marry him.

She died. Of course she died, and it turns out she died of… Get this. LOVE. That’s all Miss Temple will say on the matter, too! How mysterious? Who was the girl, and why did she die? And what did Mr. Rafiel Jr. have to do with it? Oh. That’s it. I’m calling him Junior from now on. Anyway, what did Junior have to do with her death? Was this the reason he was considered taboo? And what is Miss Cooke doing? Why did she dye her hair?

As you can see, Miss Agatha has clearly mastered the art of leaving us with more questions than she answered! Not only that, but we’re getting even more insight into the other characters, as well. We now know Mrs. Butler, who’s nickname is Mamie, by the way, is ‘sensitive’. Why is she ‘sensitive’? What point was there in knowing that, other than to make that character mildly interesting for a few moments?

The lesson here? Leave more questions than answers. Especially at this early stage in the book. We are, after all, only six chapters into a twenty two chapter book! So, ladies and gents, tell me: How do you intend to leave your readers guessing? Leave a comment with some explanations, or maybe an excerpt or two!

Breaking Down Nemesis: Part One

  • Posted on August 13, 2014 at 12:05 pm

Welcome to a new series of articles centered around breaking down, and understanding Nemesis, a Miss Marple Mystery, by Agatha Christie. If you’re curious, and wish to follow along, you can purchase the book here! (or make use of your public library, of course! <3) We’ll be breaking down several things, focusing on the Tension, the Characterization, and the Plot Threads, while searching out this mysterious Agatha Christie Code that I’ve heard so much about!

Nemesis is a story in the middle of the Miss Marple Mysteries, a series about an old woman, Miss Jane Marple, who happens to solve mysteries in between gardening, knitting, and enjoying her golden years. At twenty two chapters, we’re going to be breaking down each chapter and looking over it. At the end, I’ll give a final post about what I’ve learned from the intrepid Miss Agatha.

In the afternoons it was custom of Miss Jane Marple to unfold her second newspaper.

The cover for the copy I am reading. Clicking will take you to Miss Christie’s Wikipage.

This is the first line of the novel. Odd choice, honestly, but it works, because it shows off a certain oddness about Miss Marple in the first place. Then, odder still, Miss Marple goes off on a tangent about how often her paper is late because the boy delivering it is either late, or has handed off his route for a little while, or has been sacked.

Strangely enough, this drew me in immediately, if only because I really felt like I was listening to the mental ramblings of an old lady. But another part of it shows just how very AWARE Miss Marple is about EVERYTHING. She knows more than just ‘oh the paper’s late, I can’t read it with early morning tea.’ She knows WHY her paper is late, which is something few people even bother paying attention to.

The pacing so far is unbearably slow. I haven’t figured out anything other than what this old woman is doing with her afternoon. Which appears to be reading a newspaper she’s nicknamed “The Daily All-Sorts”. Then, we are treated to another rant, this time about being unable to find anything in the Times. This rant seems devoted to her lamenting how things have changed from when she was young.

A wonderful way to show us her age, and also an intriguingly clear indication that perhaps the so-called Agatha Christie Code is correct. She seems very intent on describing Miss Marple’s thought process in larger-than-life detail.  Here, we find out another odd detail about Miss Marple.

“It’s sad really, but nowadays one is only interested in the deaths!” – Miss Marple

Miss Marple discovers the Internet

She seems to be looking to see if anyone she knows has died, or perhaps given birth, or gotten married. An odd passtime, but when one has all the time on her hands that Miss Marple seems to, I can see why it would become interesting. Everything about Miss Marple at this point seems to be just this side of odd for an old woman. Miss Christie is leaving us hints as to just how odd Old Miss Marple is underneath. This is wonderful examples of characterization. But still, nothing has happened yet.

Finally, Miss Marple comes across a name that stirs some familiarity. Jason Rafiel, listed in the obituaries. She can’t seem to remember who it is, but she has no doubt it will come to her. In fact, we are treated to a long process of her figuring it out. She begins by looking out the window, lamenting that the doctors refuse to allow her to garden. Another hobby we find she enjoyed that now she is restricted. Poor Miss Marple, her old age is catching up to her. Turning away from the window, she picks up her knitting, which appears to be a pink jacket, just missing the sleeves.

Now pink wool, this triggers something of her memory. As we can see:

Pink wool. Now wait a minute, where did that fit in? Yes- yes- it fitted in with the name she’d just read in the paper. Pink wool. A blue sea. A Carribean sea. A sandy beach. Sunshine. Herself knitting and- why of course, Mr. Rafiel. That trip she had made to the caribbean. The Island of St. Honore. A treat from her nephew Raymond. And she remembered Joan, her niece-in-law, Raymond’s wife, saying: “Don’t get mixed up in any more murders, Aunt Jane. It isn’t good for you.”

Do you see what she did there? Miss Agatha Christie just took us through a perfect example of how the mind ACTUALLY works! After scent, touch is the closest sense to memory, followed by sight! Now, Miss Marple didn’t just remember this up, as if it were a scene, no, it’s broken down into actual recollections, actual thoughts. Instead of a flashback, we get a disjointed connection through various memories.

And like any of us, Miss Marple doesn’t just remember everything about that trip at once. No, she has to tease it together, starting with the names. She remembered the elderly Major, whose name continued escaping her. Then she remembers the kind of man Mr. Rafiel had been. Not perfectly, as some people are want to do. She remembers him being an obstinate man, as well as strong, as well as rich. Difficult, irritable and shockingly rude, she remembers. Clearly he made an impression on Miss Marple. And, not only has she remembered Mr. Rafiel, but others too.

Mrs. Walters, a widow and Mr. Rafiel’s secretary. Mr Rafiel’s Masseur-Attendant, Arthur Jackson, who she thought was a rather doubtful character. But instead of being sure of Jackson’s name, she continues to question it. This is a very organic process of tracking down what the thoughts and memories of this time were. And clearly she is remembering the people specifically, not the events. I assume this was Miss Christie’s way of not rehashing the entire events of the previous book, but instead teasing us along into remembering it as well.

Then comes Miss Knight, who was once Miss Marple’s own companion, a young woman she’s rather happy to get rid of. But for some reason, she keeps messing up her name, thinking of her as Miss Bishop. She even quips about it:

“Oh dear,” said Miss Marple again, “I always get all the names wrong. And of course, it was Miss Knight I was thinking of. Not Miss Bishop. Why do I think of her as Miss Bishop?” The answer came to her. Chess, of course. A Chess piece. A knight. A bishop.

I’ll admit, at this point, Miss Christie had me hooked as a writer, although perhaps not as a reader. Such an organic transition, and a clear definition of this character’s mind. Already I am aware that she notices things others don’t care about, and she puts together odd connections, forming them in her mind to remind herself of things. I haven’t even had to read the rest of the series, and I find myself feeling like Miss Marple is an old friend.

She gives us a rundown of how she and Mr. Rafiel had been partners, for a time, but she never gets around to explaining in what. This makes me want to track down the book previous and read it. Well played, Miss Christie. We find out that Miss Marple was quite excited about these events, and it makes us excited too. Already, we’ve found ourselves enthralled by the way Jane Marple sees the world.

Then, we get to meet Cherry, who is now Miss Marple’s Companion. It seems that Miss Marple uses Cherry as a bit of a sounding board. Also, the voices between Miss Marple and Cherry are quite different. I find myself seeing Cherry as perhaps african american, if only because of the vernacular she chooses.

“You did have it in for little Gary Hopkins I must say,” said Cherry. “When you caught him torturing his cat that day. Never knew you had it in you to go for anyone like that! Scared him stiff, you did. He’s never forgotten it.”

“I hope he hasn’t tortured anymore cats.”

“Well, he’s made sure you weren’t about if he did,” said Cherry. “In fact I’m not at all sure as there isn’t other boys as got scared. Seeing you with your wool and the pretty things you knits and all that- anyone would think you were gentle as a lamb. But there’s times I could say you’d behave like a lion if you was goaded into it.”

Also, a wonderful choice there, to show us Miss Marple’s sense of rough justice through the eyes of Cherry, her companion. At this point, I’m also hoping to see more of Cherry. Their interaction seems quite natural, that of a companion and someone of an age beyond adulthood.

Let’s pause for a moment and talk about the syntax of Miss Christie’s work. So far, I’m seeing quite a large number of ‘said’s, and very little added description. She was clearly a follower of the ‘no adjectives’ rule, as well as a detractor from the ‘said is dead’ forum of discussion. However, I don’t feel it takes away from her work. The dialogue itself is well written, as well as showing us little glimpses of what we need to know about Miss Marple. There isn’t a word wasted here. I can see why Agatha Christie is said to be the single best-selling author in the world.

There’s a small break away from the heavy thinking to have a conversation with Miss Bartlett, a companion-gardener to one Miss Hastings. Then, her mind turns back to Mr. Rafiel, and gives us a wonderful description of their relationship. Ships that pass in the night. After that, she resolves that she will probably never think of him again. She’d look out for an obituary, out of what seems an honor for his passing, but she isn’t very hopeful about it. As a final thought, she notes that he hadn’t been anyone of major importance in any industry.

He had just all his life made enormous amounts of money…

All the money. Obsene amounts of money.

What I wouldn’t give to make enormous amounts of money. But on another note, clearly, the foreshadowing here is pretty thick. On the second read through, I found things I hadn’t noticed, such as the Mrs. Hastings reference. Already we have so many characters to follow, and Miss Marple at the center of it all. Red herrings everywhere for a mystery that hasn’t even been introduced, and I’m excited about this book that literally NOTHING HAS HAPPENED IN. All Miss Marple has done is read her newspaper, think about old memories, and talk to two women for five minutes each!

Breaking it down, just a bit, we see already how Miss Christie built up the character for us, showing through thought and action just what sort of woman Miss Marple is. We know she has just a little lion inside her, and is the kind to beat a child senseless for torturing an innocent creature. We know that she has an impeccable memory for detail, although sometimes it takes her a minute and some odd associations to get there.

This entire first chapter was spent introducing the main character. But it wasn’t wasted at all. We weren’t bored to tears by a flashback of what happened in the Caribbean. We weren’t shown her beating the boy, we weren’t even shown her doing anything other than normal things. THIS is an introduction chapter. This is the type of first chapter that will get you published.

Here’s a challenge, then. Take the first chapter of your book, or first paragraph of your short story, or any beginning at all. And have the main character do nothing, but think. Explain who this character is, show it, by their thoughts and actions. Give us a snippet of your results in the comments! And don’t be afraid to tell me what you think about the article either!

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