When I went to England just before Easter to see the family, my mother-in-law gave me this book as a present. She is often the source of my reading material, and last year gave me some Agatha Christie books which I offered through this blog as a giveaway.
Now, I would not describe myself as a huge Agatha Christie fan, but I did enjoy those books and the DVDs (starring Joan Hickson as Miss Marple) she also sent me last year.
"The World of Agatha Christie" by Martin Fido does not aim to be a complete biography of the "Queen of Crime", but wants to offer (and is successful at that) a colourful panorama of Agatha Christie's life, the times she lived in and the world she inhabited - both literally and in her mind, which are by no means always the same.
A lot of things I learnt from the book were new to me:
She was quite prejudiced regarding other nations and races (one of her books was originally entitled "Ten Little Niggers" and was changed to "And Then There Were Ten" only in a later edition) and carried an underlying streak of anti-semitism. She was francophobe and germanophile, not knowing much about the current politics of her days, and neither caring to find out more.
She was an accomplished pianist, probably playing at concert level, and would have loved to become an opera singer, but recognized she simply did not have the voice for it.
Also, she was very knowledgeable in Ancient history, namely that of Mesopotamia and Egypt, having actively taken part in several excavations, not fearing the discomfort over months of daily life at an archeological site as opposed to her home in England.
With her second marriage to a man 14 years her junior, she certainly was not quite the conventional lady at a time when divorces were not as common as nowadays, and her personal sexual ethics did not necessarily reflect public opinion.
The book is richly illustrated and well-written - although, sadly, rather poorly edited or proof-read. There are many typesetting errors, I found one on almost every page, and I'm afraid a lot more time and effort was put into the (admittedly well-done) layout than in making sure the text was correct when the book went into print.
If you like Agatha Christie's novels or simply want to find out more about one of the most published authors of all times, you will enjoy this book. It is of the kind you can read like a novel but still take to hand every now and then for just refreshing your memory about one particular aspect, such as "The Family", "Reduced Circumstances", "Cairo", "World War One", "Round the World with Major Belcher", "Adaptations", "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd", "Politics", "Religion" and so on.
For me, Martin Fido managed to put together an honest representation of a woman who was, like all of us, far from perfect both in her work and in her private life, conveying his admiration for said work at the same time.