A Quick Word

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Saturday, June 23, 2012

And Then There Were None (1939)

"I'm afraid of death... Yes, but that doesn't stop death coming..."
- Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None

It is quite a given that writers have omniscient power over the universe of their narratives, but I admit that I tend to overlook that every once in a while. What, with hundreds of novels with similar storylines, you just can’t help but feel that somewhere in your brain, you already know how the story would end up. However, I tell you this; this is not the case for And Then There Were None. I had one hell of a ride, and I had no clue what to think. I didn’t even know if there was a supernatural factor or psychological thing going on, right until the very end!


So how did I come across this wonder of a book? I’m not what you may consider a literary buff; nevertheless, reading has always been a part of my life. So I ended up in Wikipedia, searching for the ‘world’s bestsellers of all time’ and there it was!

At the time, I wasn’t keen on starting with the item right away. I like reading classics, but I always have to prepare myself mentally, for some of their expressions are hard to comprehend and their time was entirely different, thus, I need to bottle up the best of my concentration skills first.

The first few chapters

According to Guinness, Agatha Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time. She's also known for being The Queen of Crime. I was disappointed. Yes, the language didn’t need translation after all, pacing was fast -- it wasn’t dragging at all, but I was dumped with data after data, character after character with no development at all, that I felt I had to grab a notepad first and take notes! You know the feeling you get when you’re in this new place, with people flooding you with their names and you end up not remembering anything? That’s how it was for me. The idea though was that ten individuals would be lured and eventually get stuck in an island, and one by one, they would pass away in such a mysterious fashion –strongly adhering to what transformed in a certain nursery rhyme- with no clue at all on who was behind it.

The nursery rhyme (Image by Artemis Hunter)

While reading

I didn’t push through with the notepad idea, so on most parts, I had to go back and re-check some details to avoid getting all tangled up. But it was the only difficulty I had, and it was infinitesimal. I realized that it was actually getting better! It was slowly growing on me and unfolding smoothly right before my very eyes! I liked the way the characters had their own personalities bleached with their own personal struggles, the way the story was set on one location – just the island- but with an evocative dimension into it, the unraveling of the facts that would take you at the edge of your seat, and each person’s transition as their minds deal with absolute shock, horror, confusion and ‘ghosts’ from the past. Most especially the way they distrust each other but had no choice but to stick together for survival. In my head though, I still couldn’t figure out what was actually happening and was thinking along these areas:

1.  It has a supernatural touch – In the book, there were ten small china figures on display, and every time a death occurs, the number decreases as well. I thought this was it, that there was a godlike persona who farmed all these sinful creatures and punished them for their sins in his own version of limbo.
2.  Sci-fi? – Somewhere along the story, a character dropped a hint of extra-terrestrial forms that invaded earth. They were so powerful, and invisible, they could do whatever they want defying nature and logic.
3.  Another nut case – Could a character be schizophrenic? That he or she wasn’t aware of killing the others? I really thought it was *beep* all along. That person was so righteous to the point of insanity! And that person had these episodes! Or perhaps it’s all happening inside one’s mind? Like one afflicted with MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder) syndrome, trying to get rid of the other body invaders?

In the end though, there was no one left... taking my thoughts with them too.

Final Notes

The novel was a complete enigma. Even the inspectors who came to the scene afterwards weren’t able to figure out anything. I was thrown off-guard by the finale that I regretted prematurely judging Agatha Christie’s character development style. At that moment, I understood. There was a reason why she laid it all like that. That’s probably what made her legendary. She’s definitely a gifted writer whose legacy shall continue to transcend generations, because while the book was written more than seven decades ago, it still was a complete mystery to its first-time readers; untainted by the times and unperturbed by her successors -- if anyone ever came close.


The book was originally titled as “Ten Little Niggers” but it was changed to “Ten Little Indians”. Both spiked irritation though from various groups. Consequently it settled to “And Then There Were None”.

This novel was also one of the most adapted creations of Agatha Christie. It inspired numerous theatrical plays and films.

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