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Monday, April 12, 2010

Cyanide in strawberry

An unlikely line of questioning in Christine Kenneally's review of Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks, in which her non-methodical method of distributing ideas, lists, and half-formed thoughts in multiple notebooks:
How on earth did Christie draw her perfectly tensioned structures from this formless mess? Did she manage it because, as the notebooks show, she was initially open to everything and considered the situation from every angle? Evidence of the breadth of Christie's imagination can also be found in the tantalizing trails she left that never went anywhere. Curran tracks motifs and ideas that crop up again and again over many years but that were never realized in her published books. Imagine what Christie would have done with a legless man, infrared photography, identical and nonidentical twins, and a chambermaid? Curran also carefully excavates ingenuous but unused ideas, "Nitro-benzene—point is—it sinks to bottom of glass—woman takes sip from it—then gives it to husband." He unearths diverse fragments, such as the mercifully killed title, "Fiddle de Death," the unpublished play Butter from a Lordly Dish, and the otherwise blank page with the excruciatingly unfinished sentence, "A good idea would be ..."
But in this one thing, it seems the Queen of Crime was wrong. Still, if Christie's natural method was to be disorganized, I wish I knew why it troubled her and why she ever thought it could have been different. Why was her prep work so profoundly nonlinear? She distributed thoughts literally all over the place. Is this what it looks like when you wrestle something down that is actually bigger than your own head? Christie's half-dozen active notebooks evoke the modern computer desktop. What would she have made of a Mac, apart from killing someone with it?

This is a comforting, dangerous justification of my own work habits (I know exactly what she'd do with a Mac: she'd rely on the Search function for figuring out what's where in x, y, z false starts that maybe contained something salvageable...).

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