Monday, February 13, 2012

And Then There Were None

I really enjoyed this book! It was fun to read, but also pretty scary at times. I liked almost everything about the book.

I can see why Agatha Christie is so popular; she is a great writer, and her stories are genuinely complex, mysterious, and fun!

While I was reading it, I kept thinking that I had figured out who the killer was...and then that person would suddenly die!

The only minor problem I had with the story was regarding the final explanation of how everything happened.

Don't worry, I won't give anything away.

The ending actually demonstrates one of my pet peeves from overly complicated books and films. It relies on the idea that in order for everything to work out, everyone's behavior must be totally anticipated in advance.
I don't believe that anyone can predict the behavior of a person (or ten people for that matter) so perfectly that they will be able to design specific circumstances to exploit their reactions. People just aren't that predictable. Someone is bound to do something unexpected that will mess everything up.

It is kind of the same idea behind the Deus Ex Machina; or in other words, an unexpected or improbable device or event that is able to quickly resolve all of the conflict.

In some cases I would say that this is a sign of lazy writing. I don't think this is the case with Agatha Christie, as she is clearly a very gifted writer.  However, the ending did seem a bit too contrived for my taste.

I would actually be interested in researching this specific method of resolution in mystery stories. I have seen this same trick used in lots of movies in recent years, but it makes me wonder if Agatha Christie might have been the first writer to think it up. If so, that would be amazing, and would totally cancel out my complaint!
The problem is, I don't know enough about literature and writing to know where to start!

English majors, assemble!

Seriously though, if any of you smart English majors out there know what I am talking about, I would love some input on this.

Despite my complaints about the ending, it was still a very good read.

4 stars out of 5.

I would highly recommend it to anyone.

P.S. I am told that I need to see the movie, because they "fix" the ending. I will report back when I do.


garrett said...

Hi Robby. We don't know each other, but you commented on my blog once. I think you know one of my friends. Jason, or Haley, or Robin... or all of them? Anyway, you asked for an assembly of English majors, so I'm just checking in. I swear I'm not a stalker.

First, I'm not a literature major, so I'm not able to give any historical literary references to the "everyone's behavior is predictable so I can plan in advance" literary device, but I can tell you something about the illusion of asymmetrical insight. Basically, this theory shows that most people think they themselves are very layered and have a lot of depth. They believe they have experiences and thoughts that don't fit in a mold. They think that even their close friends don't really know all there is to know about them, but at the same time, they think they know everyone else very well. They have the attitude of, "While I know I am a complex person with complex ideas, I know my friends very well, and they're not as complex. I can tell what they'd do in a situation before they do it. I know them better than they know me. Maybe even better than they know themselves."

So first, kudos to you for actually believing that people aren't that predictable. I think that shows an understanding that other people have depth, and that you appreciate that they might be more complex than any stereotype they might fit in with. Second, I think the issue in books and movies comes back to this idea that "everyone else isn't as deep and complex as me." Book authors and screen writers use this idea that we can fit everyone into a mold and based on what we know about them, we can predict what they will do in a given situation, and use it as a plot device, because everyone already thinks they can do the same with the people they know. No one really fits in any mold very well, and only people who see that understand that this plot device isn't plausible.

So there's my two cents. From a guy you don't know, who started reading your blog because you made a comment on his, and you looked (or read) like someone who he would find interesting. Again, I swear I'm not a stalker.

Robby Spratt said...

Garrett, thanks for answering my assembly call!
Yeah, I do know all three of those people. They are some of my favorites!
Thanks for the info on the illusion of asymmetrical insight, that was really interesting, and exactly what I was trying to describe from movies and literature. What is your education in? I am curious where that theory comes from.
You are absolutely right that this plot device isn't plausible. That's why it bugs me so bad when all of the events of an entire movie are based on this idea. It just wouldn't work.
Thanks for reading!

garrett said...

My education is in English with emphasis in technical and professional writing. But don't get me started on how much of a rip off my education was. The theory I learned from the all mighty internet. There's a site called that I read now and then. The post about the illusion of asymmetrical insight struck a chord with me, I think. It comes up in all sorts of situations for me now.