agony agatha

22 February 2015

Alistair baldwin solves your relationship woes with the help of the mistress of mystery herself

Dear Agatha, why do you love reading about murder? Isn’t life sad enough already?

You’re right about that. Life is bloody sad. It’s definitely sad enough. And, at face value, it would look like inviting death, murder and vengeance into my life, even through books, would add to that.

In fact, screw face value – you’re absolutely right.

In any murder mystery, you’re zeroing in on two key events: the worst thing that’s ever happened to someone, and the worst thing someone has done to another person. It’s an examination into one person losing their life, and another losing part of their soul. When you kill, you corrupt a part of yourself that can never be regained. When you kill, you live a kind of half-life… okay, that’s from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But you get the idea. Agatha Christie serves up human scum, on a platter, for entertainment. She serves up death.

But you can’t have death without life. You can’t have victims without survivors. And, in the perfect world of Agatha Christie, you can’t have crime without justice. Once-suspects have their slates cleaned at the end of every mystery. They’re empowered to move forward, to claw their way out of tragedy.

There’s something romantic in the way Christie writes mysteries. So often, once order is restored and unknowns are known, characters fall in love, get married, or announce their plans for the future. Death reminds them of how short life is – and it reminds us of that too.

I love murder mysteries because I like to be reminded of death. I like to invite sadness, and suffering, and trauma into my life – only because those things shape our experience of happiness, joy and love. If I want pure frivolity, I’d read a comedic novel. If I wanted nothing but despair, I’d read a Greek tragedy. But what I really want is life; I want misfortune and fortune, injustice and justice metred out in even handfuls. I want people to lose the love of their life – and I want new love to be borne out of shared pain.

There’s one quote, from the Queen of Crime herself, which I’ve often looked to in… tough times. “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing”.

Here’s to you, Agatha.

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