SEASIDE BOOK CLUB – July 2020 Meeting

by Deborah Rogers –

Book club online is definitely better than no book club and I was really pleased to see so many friendly faces again this month for our Zoom meeting. We had chosen Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles as our book for discussion – in part because it is out of copyright and easily accessible in a digital format – but also because it was published 100 years ago! It’s the oldest book our group’s discussed.

The formal, old-fashioned writing had some appeal to our readers, in fact someone commented that they felt they’d had their vocabulary expanded through reading the novel. But of course with older novels often come some terms and ideas that are out of step with current thinking. Many commented that the way that different races were referred to and addressed made them feel uncomfortable. We thought it was important to acknowledge that Christie was writing at a different time, and some of her language would not be tolerated in a more current book.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Christie’s first mystery, and saw the introduction of her famed detective Hercules Poirot. He is a delightful character, with some really interesting traits and sayings. He is definitely the most three dimensional figure in the novel. There were several very lightly drawn characters; placed there as red herrings or a straw man. Our readers noticed though that we met some interesting women, with varied experiences and influence, which was perhaps something they had not been expecting to find in a book from this period.

The mystery at the heart of the book, and the way the culprit was finally outed felt quite simplistic, especially to readers of modern crime and mystery books. But we couldn’t deny that there was something appealing about Christie’s wit and spirit. The setting in a small English village during the First World War was really reminiscent of the Helen Simonson novel we read a few years ago, The Summer Before the War.

Whilst we wait to see what is happening with the Province’s rules around gatherings we will continue to meet online each month. For our September meeting, on Tuesday September 15th, we will be discussing Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This non-fiction title currently has unlimited copies of the audiobook available through the VIRL digital collection. Heads-up! We have also decided to discuss Mme Proust and the Kosher Kitchen by Kate Taylor (originally planned for our missed April meeting) at our November meeting, so if you didn’t get a chance to read it yet, you have a couple of months to get your hands on a copy!

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