In this Christmassy short story by Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot is looking forward to a proper ‘Bah Humbug’ Christmas spent at home alone. But his best laid plans are thwarted when he is asked to spend a traditional family Christmas in English countryside on the trail of a jewel thief.
Our First Book Club Meeting
Yesterday was the first meeting of the Bleak House Classics Book Club. The idea for an alumnae book club was born in Devon in October, on our Bleak House Experience. We had bonded over the books we’d read and loved, and the ones we wanted to read but never felt we’d had the time to. It was marvellous to get together for a little reunion a and catch-up and I realised on entering Jenna’s home in Stoke Newington that this book club was going to be about so much more than books, it was going to be about friendship.
The first book we selected was Agatha Christie’s short story ‘The Adventure of The Christmas Pudding‘, chosen firstly as a homage to Agatha Christie and the wonderful day we’d spent at her gorgeous home Greenway in Devon, secondly because it’s impossibly festive and thirdly because it’s just sixty pages long and we only had a short period of time to read it before our first meeting. In my customary last minute style I started reading it at 10pm the night before the meeting and finished in bed yesterday morning, something I do not intend to repeat.
We have decided to rotate hosting the book club at each of our homes and to offer some simple food and drink. I really like the idea that these meetings are an opportunity to get to know each other better, our likes and interests and the way we will each approach hosting the event. This first meeting was at Jenna’s home and was accompanied by suitably Christmassy Fair Isle jumpers, velvet jeans, a Fortnum & Mason Christmas pudding, cognac butter and two bottles of Nyetimber. That is most definitly a book club I can get behind.
What we thought
The general consensus on the book was that firstly, this is by no means Agatha Christie’s best book. It’s too short, there are far too many unexplained events (how did Poirot happen to have a paste ruby that looked identical to real one? How did Jesmond know Lee Worstley was involved and how did he know he would be at Kings Lacey?). But secondly, the story has great bones and we all wished Christie hard been turned into a full length story with more depth and greater intrigue.
The book is oddly timeless, in that it’s hard to place in a particular decade or period of history. References to faded grandeur, the upkeep of country manor houses, Christmas turkeys, holly and ivy decorations and Christmas puddings could apply to any time at all in the last hundred years. The book was written, surprisingly, in 1960, much later than one would imagine. Partly because of the way Agatha Christie writes, and what she choses to focus on, and partly because the David Suchet TV adaptations are set between the wars, we tend to think of the Poirot books as having been written, or at least set, in the interwar period, and so the references in this story to skinny black jeans jar a little and make it unclear whether we, as readers, are supposed to think this story is set in 1960 or in a previous decade.
What we all really loved about this story was really that it was a very personal homage to an English Christmas, to the Christmases that Agatha Christie loved as child when she spent them at Abney Hall in the early part of the twentieth century. We loved the descriptions of the food, the simple decorations, the ceremonial lighting of the Christmas tree on Christmas Day (with real candles), the order of events, the stirring of the Christmas pudding. We enjoyed comparing Agatha Christie’s version of a traditional English Christmas, so clearly influenced by her own experiences as a child, with our modern versions which have been influenced by our own varied childhoods.
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding isn’t by any standard Christie’s most accomplished novel but it is absolutely one of the most Christmassy books around. It’s well worth a read at this time of year if you want to lose yourself in the fantasy of a perfect English Christmas, created in the mind of one of the world’s most famous writers.
Have you read the book? What did you think?
You can read more views in my instagram post of today.
How to join the book club
The online Bleak House Book Club is open to everyone. Every month or so we hold a meeting for the in-person book club and then discuss the book here on my blog so that anyone can join in, no matter where you live.
You can share your thoughts by commenting here or by posting a photo of the book your instagram account. If you post on your account or stories, do tag @bleakhouse.london and use the hashtag #bleakhousebookclub as I’d love to join the conversation.
The next book…
The next book is Virginia Woolf’s much loved classic Mrs Dalloway. We will be talking about this on the weekend beginning 4th February 2019. Do join us. You can read more about the book club and see the other books we’ve discussed here.
An insight into how Lauren Keim and I we put together a very special Bleak House Experience celebrating Virginia Woolf’s much loved book Mrs Dalloway.
Patricia Highsmith’s compelling novel about a talented young architect who meets a stranger on a train and becomes embroiled in a nightmare of deceit, depression and murder.