So why do people keep reading her books?
That’s what Stephen Moss wants to know about Agatha Christie:
Nothing explains the enduring popularity of Agatha Christie, except her
appeal to foreign students [studying English],” wrote novelist Nicholas
Blincoe at the weekend. Unfortunate timing by Blincoe because, just as
he was lampooning the late “Queen of Crime”, a joint study by three
British universities reported that it was the very simplicity of her
style that appealed – not just to Japanese students but everyone else,
too. “Christie’s language patterns stimulate higher than usual activity
in the brain,” said Dr Roland Kapferer, who coordinated the research,
undertaken by neuro-linguists at the universities of Birmingham, London
and Warwick. “The release of these neurological opiates makes
Christie’s writing literally unputdownable.” Narrative speed, the
“mesmerising” use of familiar phrases, and “minimum cognitive
distraction” (aka lack of Flaubertian detail) were all cited as reasons
for her extraordinary success – sales of two billion, bettered only by
Shakespeare and the Bible. So who’s right – Blincoe or the
His recollections were further prompted by rereading THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD and finding it didn’t hold up to scrutiny very well, at least in terms of the prose:
Yet I remember loving Ackroyd when I first read it, and marvelling at
the cleverness of its denouement: it was the narrator whodunnit. Thirty
years on, The Man in the Brown Suit, Murder in Mesopotamia and Evil
Under the Sun all bring back fond memories. What strange alchemy is
this? Somehow, Blincoe and the neuro-linguists are both right.
Christie’s prose is as lifeless as her many corpses – yet we adore her
books. How is that possible? Call for Poirot.
Although I haven’t reread Christie since my teens, I have some of the same fond memories (at least for ACKROYD) and figure much of it has to do with the comfort level — the murder’s solved, everything’s neatened, and it’s all done pretty much in a vacuum.