Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Oh, Hastings


I seem to be experiencing a bit of reader's block at the moment, struggling to 'get into' any novel I pick up (and it doesn't help that most of them are in boxes, as I'm moving house this weekend.)  One author is working for me, and I am chain-reading her... it's Agatha Christie.  I've read five in quick succession (Five Little Pigs, Crooked House, Cat Among the Pigeons, Lord Edgware Dies, and A Pocket Full of Rye) and I've just started The Secret of Chimneys.  I shan't blog about all of them, because they've gone back to the library, and anyway it's very difficult to write about a detective novel properly, but I did want to share an excerpt from Lord Edgware Dies.

Is there anybody who has read an Agatha Christie novel in which he appears who does not love Captain Hastings?  He is so adorable - yes, he is essentially a Watson to Poirot's Holmes, but without Watson's adulation of Holmes.  Hastings can't ever quite shake the feeling, during investigation, that Poirot's best days might be behind him, or that his European ways are letting the side down.  I love their dynamic, and nowhere is it better illustrated than this fantastic exchange:

"No human being should learn from another.  Each individual should develop his own powers to the uttermost, not try to imitate those of someone else.  I do not wish you to be a second and inferior Poirot.  I wish you to be the supreme Hastings.  And you are the supreme Hastings.  In you, Hastings, I find the normal mind almost perfectly illustrated."

"I'm not abnormal, I hope," I said.

"No, no.  You are beautifully and perfectly balanced.  In you sanity is personified.  Do you realise what that means to me?  When the criminal sets out to do a crime his first effort is to deceive.  Who does he seek to deceive?  The image in his mind is that of the normal man.  There is probably no such thing actually - it is a mathematical abstraction.  But you come as near to realising it as is possible.  There are moments when you have flashes of brilliance when you rise above the average, moments (I hope you will pardon me) when you descend to curious depths of obtuseness, but take it all for all, you are amazingly normal.  Eh bien, how does this profit me?  Simply in this way.  As in a mirror, I see reflected in your mind exactly what the criminal wishes me to believe,  That is terrifically helpful and suggestive.

I did not quite understand.  It seemed to me that what Poirot was saying was hardly complimentary.  However, he quickly disabused me of that impression.

"I have expressed myself badly," he said quickly.  "You have an insight into the criminal mind, which I myself lack.  You show me what the criminal wishes me to believe.  It is a great gift."

24 comments:

  1. It's interesting to hear what books people can read when they're experience "reader's block." For me it's always been a good Fantasy novel. I can read (and re-read) them faster than anything else - and they usually get my reader's mind running again, enough to tackle other books. It's happened often enough that anytime I now find I'm not reading, I'm quick to remind myself to pick up a Fanrasy novel. Or, even better, a Fantasy series.

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    1. Usually I turn to the Diary of a Provincial Lady, and it might well have worked this time as well, but it's nice to know for future reference that I can turn to Agatha as well!

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  2. Hastings appears in the first book of Agatha Christie. I didn't really like him, I found him pretty annoying because he never believed in Poirot's theories ._.

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    1. Oh, Helena! Hastings, annoying! I have indeed read the first book, Mysterious Affair at Styles, and didn't think it was especially brilliant - but did love him in it.

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  3. I adore Hastings, with his dogged belief in his own cleverness and confidence that he'll catch something Poirot has missed. His general obliviousness and moral uprightness make for an irresistible combination.

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    1. Absolutely! He is such a treasure.

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  4. I love Hastings too, and your quotation is brilliant. Sorry to hear about the block, but quite relieved in one way to hear that you suffer from it too as you always seem to be above such things. I too read crime novels when the block is upon me, and Christie is always going to work, though I love Miss Marple more than Poirot. Good luck with the move.

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    1. Oh, I am very definitely not above such things! It seems to come about once a year... I also prefer Marple to Poirot, but have run out of Marples now (although I am coming around to Poirot, of late.)

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  5. I *love, love, love* Hastings and wish he was in more of the books - and Hugh Fraser does him perfectly IMHO. Agatha is also perfect for reader's block because she's wonderfully readable and unstressing - enjoy! (and good luck with the move!)

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    1. Wouldn't it be wonderful if he were in more books? I don't have many of his left to read.

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  6. yes, indeed, hastings is a favourite character, and both hugh fraser on tv and simon williams on radio bring him splendidly to life. hope you enjoy the secret of chimneys, a sort of " early dame agatha meets sir pelham grenville" read just right for summer, though you do have to take the odd bit of 1920s casual racism in your stride.
    cora

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    1. Hugh Fraser is fantastic, isn't she? I've got The Secret of Chimneys out the library, but.. I'm not sure where it went when I moved house! I'll have to have a hunt around...

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  7. Back in the early 90s, when I was in the sixth form (of a comprehensive school, but a church-aided one in the suburbs rather than one on the mean streets of the inner city) Poirot was running on Sunday night television. These were the one-hour episodes that typically featured Hastings and Inspector Japp, neither of whom appear in the more recent TV adaptations. I will always remember when a guy from the year below said to me "You're not like the rest of us, are you? You're a bit like that Hastings character in Poirot." The memory has stuck with me. Given that Hastings seemed a bit on the posh but dim side, I'm not entirely sure whether this was a compliment, though I was happy to accept it as such. Whilst other sixth formers might have sought outsider status by reading Camus, wearing black or discovering 1970s progressive rock, I quite liked the idea of being an upper middle class sidekick to a 1920s sleuth.

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    1. Marry me! You sound perfect

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    2. Definitely a compliment, I think, David! And look, it's got you a proposal ;)

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  8. When I suffer from a reading block, I usually read magazines until I am “over it”. I am glad to hear your cure is working for you. Moving can be so stressful. Are you going to take the opportunity to re-arrange your books when you get to your new place?

    I love Hasting as portrayed by Hugh Fraser. I also like that Hastings (in the TV series and in the books) is a man of action in contrast to Poirot. On can rely on him to be ready to chase down a suspect or offer his handkerchief or shoulder to a damsel in distress.

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    1. I didn't rearrange my books, Ruthiella, I ended up boxing them in the order they were on my shelves, and put them back as they were! Except that my new room already had a few shelves, so I could spread out a bit - gaps on shelves!

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  9. La Comtesse Lola18 July 2013 at 05:18

    I do like Hastings, and the dynamic between the two men, but must confess that I have always had a mad crush on Hercule. The brain, or as he would say, "the little grey cells" are for me the sexiest thing about a man!

    And it is rather hilarious when, as is some of the stories, Hercule is "distracted" by a woman character. And not exactly the kind of woman you might think he would like, small, quiet and cerebral. But smart and sassy and dare I say of a certain stature...I always imagine rather like Nigella L.

    I am so happy to learn that someone as clever and well read as you Simon, shares a weakness with me. I always read Christie, when I don't know what to read...it's soothing somehow, almost comforting... n'est-ce pas? No matter how many times you re read it.

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    1. A crush on Hercule! How funny - I have yet to read any of the novels with Ariadne Oliver in, but I'm looking forward to seeing how he fairs with the opposite sex...

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  10. Hastings as portayed by Hugh Frasier has always been one of my favorite characters. I just adore him!
    Agatha Christie is very goof for reading slumps, she usually works very well for me.

    Good luck with moving, I know how stressful that can be.

    Kind regards,

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    1. Moving is thankfully all over now, so I'm enjoying getting back to normal life :)

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  11. I think Hastings is great. He is very honest and very brave. I am reading all the Christies in the order of publication, and Poirot becomes much more appreciative of Hastings as time goes on. In her early Poirot stories Poirot is vile to Hastings, but in some of the more recent ones I have read (I am up to Number 22) he comments several times that he misses his friend when Hastings isn't around.

    You can read my progress here: http://fennellbooks.co.uk/the-great-agatha-christie-challenge/

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    1. I have headed over and looked at your project, Nellie, it looks great fun :)

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