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So, back to Poirot! I've got loads of them to get through now, after all.

This is Hastings' second outing, and takes the duo to northern France. There, of course, Hastings serves the very useful linguistic purpose of being the only person present in quite a large number of scenes who needs everything to be explained to him in English. That said, there are a number of other scenes in which he isn't present and Poirot discusses the developments of the case with local French officials, but Christie takes the classic SF approach of just carrying on as though everyone spoke English anyway. She even continues to characterise Poirot via the use of French phrases and syntax, while the French characters around him converse in perfect English - which is slightly disconcerting.

The story is again largely as replicated by the TV adaptation, but with a few differences which speak volumes about the approaches and priorities of each. In the book Poirot and Hastings go to Merlinville (the scene of the action) in the first place because they are summoned there by a letter from the murder victim, Paul Renauld, written before his death. As it transpires, their presence was intended by Renauld to help reinforce the impression that he had been murdered, when he actually intended to fake his own death. The fact that, after all, he was murdered anyway represented the intervention of a third party, and was not part of the clever scheme he had concocted. In the TV adaptation, though, Poirot and Hastings' presence on the scene (this time, the real northern French town of Deauville) is a coincidence. They have gone there, not because Renauld has drawn them into his clever plans, but because Hastings wants to avail himself of the local golfing facilities.

The result of the change is that in the TV version, the plot is somewhat weakened. Renauld's fake-death plan comes across as less carefully worked out, and we have less reason to believe the false impression of the circumstances of his death which it creates in the novel. This is part of a general simplification strategy which keeps the main lines of the plot intact, but dispenses with a few red herrings and merges a rather confusing pair of twins into one person. On the other hand, the characterisation is immensely strengthened. In particular, there is some great Poirot / Hastings tension, as Poirot gradually realises about the golf, and sees that Hastings' claims about Deauville being a famous centre of gastronomy were in fact a ruse to get him to agree to go there - which is then sweetly resolved as it turns out that the local cuisine does live up to Poirot's expectations after all.

In short, then, the novel is stronger on the plot, but the TV adaptation is stronger on characterisation. And, as I observed for the last Poirot novel I read, the TV version is better on detail and richesse, too. Once again, Christie gives us lots of dialogue and action, but very little setting and atmosphere. And my personal preference is very much for the TV approach.

That said, I was distinctly impressed by the literary twist which she suddenly served up on the last page. Throughout the novel, Hastings has been involved in a blossoming romance with a young lady whom he has known mainly as 'Cinderella'. Meanwhile, once Poirot has resolved the mystery of Paul Renauld's murder, his surviving wife and son decide to move away from France, and make a new life for themselves in South America. Hastings, in his role as the narrative voice, wraps matters up thus:
And what of Captain Arthur Hastings, humble chronicler of these pages?
There is some talk of his joining the Renaulds on a ranch across the seas, but for the end of this story I prefer to go back to a morning in the garden of the Villa Geneviève.
'I can't call you Bella,' I said, 'since it isn't your name. And Dulcie [her real name] seems so unfamiliar. So it's got to be Cinderella. Cinderella married the Prince, you remember. I'm not a Prince, but --'
She interrupted me.
'Cinderella warned him, I'm sure. You see, she couldn't promise to turn into a princess. She was only a little scullion after all --'
'It's the Prince's turn to interrupt,' I interpolated. 'Do you know what he said?'
'"Hell!" said the Prince -- and kissed her!'
And I suited the action to the word.

In other words, all of a sudden Christie is drawing attention to the fictional nature of her story, both by suggesting that Hastings is an unreliable narrator who may be relating what he wanted to happen, rather than what actually did happen, and by suddenly transforming her two characters into figures from a romantic fairy tale. In some ways, it's rather out of keeping with the straightforward tone of the rest of the novel - but it is nice to see the occasional touch of something a bit more interesting popping up alongside all the careful plotting, in any case.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:24 am (UTC)
One thing I'm wondering about is that the TV series was done using a Poirot who was fully realised through literally dozens of books, whereas Christie was only writing him for the second time. I don't think I've ever read the books with an eye to comparing Early with Later Poirot... I wonder if there's a difference.

Obviously, this would only apply to Poirot and Hastings--and one or two other recurring characters. If you're thinking more generally about supporting cast, this 'excuse' doesn't hold water! But one of the things I love about Christie are her characters--they do tend to be broadly sketched, and she repeats her archetypes ad infinitum, but I like them.

I'm a bit more blase about her tendency to have a romantic pair in every book. I tend to amuse myself by guessing who the successful lovebirds will be as well as whodunnit!
Apr. 10th, 2009 08:32 am (UTC)
You're certainly right about the TV series having more to draw on. Apparently, Suchet read all the stories and drew up a whole folder of all Poirot's little mannerisms before he began playing the part, so he started from the beginning with a more fully-fledged Poirot than Christie has here.

But, then again, it's still true that in the course of the TV adaptation, the plot of this story was thinned down to leave more room for new scenes focussing on the relationship between Poirot and Hastings. So it's not just the quality of Suchet's characterisation that makes the difference, but the room which is allocated to exploring it.

Anyway, I'm planning to read the novels which I have now acquired (eight in total) in publication order, so I will see whether I notice any developments in Christie's characterisation as I go along. I don't have any really late ones, though - the latest one I've got is Hercule Poirot's Christmas from 1939.
Apr. 10th, 2009 08:43 am (UTC)
Let me know which you're missing from later - I have a reasonably substantial Christie collection and might be able to help!

That was a fascinating read, you know. I have watched both the telly series, various films and read most (if not all) of the books, and while I've drawn sketchy comparisons in my head as I watch repeats of the Suchet series on ITV3 or whatever it is, it's good to see it written down and properly deconstructed!

And also, it has to be Suchet. Neither Ustinov nor Finney in the films cut any dice with me.
Apr. 10th, 2009 09:26 am (UTC)
Thanks - glad you enjoyed it. I shall definitely be continuing to compare books and TV adaptations as I go along, since my main interest is really in the latter. I've made the decision not to start reviewing every single episode of the TV series in its own right (like I do with Doctor Who), as that would just get too much and rob the indulgent pleasure out of watching them. But reviewing the books is kind of a sneaky way of getting to write about at least some of the TV adaptations anyway.

As for Suchet vs. Ustinov and Finney - GODS, YES! Actually, I do quite enjoy both Ustinov and Finney's performances in their own ways, but Suchet takes Poirot to a whole different level. His characterisation is so strong and believable - it's as though he actually is Poirot, where Ustinov and Finney were just acting a role. It's blindingly obvious from all the interviews Suchet gives just how much effort he puts into the performance, and also how invested in it he is. And three cheers to him for that.
Apr. 10th, 2009 11:34 am (UTC)
The same problem arises with The Chocolate Box. Poirot returns to Belgium and continues to use his funny accent even though his compatriots are all speaking perfect English.

The only thorough-going solution- to use a Francophone cast and subtitles- would, I suppose, have been totally unacceptable in a mainstream TV show.
Apr. 10th, 2009 11:49 am (UTC)
Yes, and also The Mystery of the Blue Train, which takes place (in large part) in Nice. For that one, interestingly, there is an interview with the producer on the DVD, in which she explains her approach to the language issue. She felt that if everyone was doing comic French accents, it would start to sound too much like an episode of 'Allo 'Allo!; while of course Poirot can't suddenly drop his, because that is an established part of his characterisation, which serves an important purpose for episodes set in England. So she deliberately ordered those playing local French characters to just speak in an ordinary English accent, and let the disparity between them and Poirot stand.

The scenario you suggest, of actual French with subtitles, would indeed be unthinkable for a show of this nature - too alienating, and too distracting from the generally light-hearted, escapist tone of the stories. Although, that said, there are also one or two scenes in Death in the Clouds (partially set in Paris) when Poirot does exchange a few fairly simple sentences in French with characters who are unable to speak English. No subtitles are provided at all - translation issues are handled by having an English character also present, who then needs the basics of the conversation to be glossed by Poirot afterwards. But that would become very unwieldy, too, if it was overdone. I think it was only done at all in this case because quite a lot of the characterisation and atmosphere in this particular story revolves around the communication divide between the English-speaking and French-speaking characters.
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:20 pm (UTC)
I'm pretty certain there's some french conversation in the diamond episode too (erm, can't remember title, the one with the "suspicious chinaman" and diamonds which were supposedly the "eyes of the god") between Poirot and the Belgian film starlet, I felt that worked well though as got general understanding of the scene even without understanding the dialogue. Your review has made me alot more tempted to watch the episode of "Murder on the links", have only read the book previously and whilst liked the complexities always find twins and mistaken identity stories rather annoying so not my favourite and have been putting off watching the tv version, will recitify :) Also you'll be pleased to know from latter books all goes well with the Cinderella and Hastings romance, aww :)
Apr. 10th, 2009 12:42 pm (UTC)
Ah, I've not seen that one (The Adventure of the Western Star, I think) for a while - I might well revisit it now! (Any excuse...)

And I would thoroughly recommend the TV adaptation of Murder on the Links - I think it is a great deal better than the book, and it has some really god actors in it, too.
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