From the desk of Sophia Rose:
As many Agatha Christie fans become aware of sometime after they start devouring her books and the TV/Film Adaptions of them, her real life can read like the fiction she wrote. Two events stick with people the most. First, there is her husband’s affair and their subsequent divorce. This is followed by the mysterious eleven-day disappearance of Agatha in 1926 causing a national manhunt and great speculation that she never explained. In The Christie Affair, author Nina de Gramont bravely tackles both from the perspective of the woman for whom Archie Christie left his wife for, Nan O’Day. Was your gasp as loud as mine? There are just some books one cannot pass up.
“A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman.”
True State of Affairs
The Christie Affair did not focus on Agatha or Archie Christie, save in their large roles in the events of the story. It would be more accurate to call it the Nan O’Day Affair since the fictitious Nan narrates her own story alternating past and present. Part of that involves an interesting style of narration in which she tells of the events that occurred with the Christies and others when she was not present as if she were. Anyone who has read one of those psychological thrillers with the unreliable narrator who may or may not be innocent will recognize the sensation of reading this style of narration.
Beginning at the point when Archie tells Agatha he means to end the marriage and wants a divorce, there is an introduction of the main players from Nan’s point of view. Nan is by no means a wide-eyed innocent and was deliberate in capturing Archie’s attention and love even while knowing she is the cause of a gentle, loving woman’s heartbreak. Nan O’Day admits to her role. Her dips into memories of her dark and painful past point to the cause of her affair with Archie and subsequent events that had her growing intimately acquainted with Agatha Christie. These effect, but do not deter her.
“I always admitted to admiring her as a person. I still admire her. Recently, when I confided this to one of my sisters, she asked me if I had regrets about what I’d done, and how much pain it caused. Of course I do, I told her without hesitation…simply adept at keeping secrets. In this way the first Mrs. Christie and the second are very much alike.” (22)
An Idyllic Escape
The bulk of the story takes place in Harrogate where Nan plans to spend time pursuing her own purpose, where Agatha has fled after Archie leaving her, and where two other surprising people join them in their separate though intersecting courses. There is murder, there is romance, and there is most definitely an untold story to explain the mysterious eleven days of Agatha Christie’s life.
“One more day undiscovered. Perhaps two. One more day exempt from time and repercussion. One more day dispensing with propriety and responsibilities. One more day as if her mother had never died, and her husband never left her- indeed if both of them had never existed at all, to cause her joy or pain.” (3755)
Some Praise and a Few Niggles
The Christie Affair brought out a mixed reaction in me. I was very struck by the author’s description of time and place that made it easy to imagine 1920’s Harrogate and WWI Ireland, the very different classes and lifestyles that cast the contemporary Nan and Agatha, and the author’s ability to invoke the reader’s thoughts and feelings.
However, the style of narration to have Nan ‘guessing-not guessing’ about events she wasn’t there to see and hear took me out of the story somewhat. I never got comfortable with it and wished that, if Nan had to narrate, that it had just been the parts involving her with an omniscient narrator or even Agatha narrating the other bits.
Another niggle I experienced was that I was none too keen on having the home-wrecker as my story source particularly for the first fourth of the book. To be fair, the blurb indicates this and I thought I was prepared and wanted it. Instead, I was tempted to set the book aside. I was immensely more comfortable when the story moved to Harrogate and I was confronted with a mystery and Agatha got up and dusted herself off to go on living and doing what she must, even taking a hand in solving said mystery. After reflection, I think the author meant me to, at the very least, feel ambivalent toward Nan no matter how tough her life was.
In the End
While this was more fiction than fact and ‘Nan’ and many others surrounding Agatha were sheer fabric of imagination, I enjoyed exploring a ‘what if’ for the famous Agatha Christie disappearance and appreciated the clever mystery and historical setting aspects. I had no trouble imagining I was getting a tale of post-WWI Britain with flashbacks to earlier both in England and Ireland. I can recommend it to others looking for historical fiction revolving around the most famous ‘Queen of Crime’.
4 out of 5 Stars
- The Christie Affair: A Novel, by Nina de Gramont
- St. Martin’s Press (February 1, 2022)
- Hardcover, eBook, & audiobook (320) pages
- ISBN: 978-1250274618
- Genre: Historical Fiction, Historical Mystery
We received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Austenprose is an Amazon affiliate. Cover image courtesy of St. Martin’s Press © 2022; text Sophia Rose © 2022, austenprose.com.
Hello Dear Readers,
Have you read any of the other novels about Agatha Christie’s disappearance in 1926?
If you enjoy fiction with re-imagined history you might give The Christie Affair a try.
Drop us a line below and share your thoughts on this review and what you are currently reading! We would love to hear from you!
Laurel Ann Nattress, editor