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Review of 'The Christie Affair' - Nina De Gramont

Goodreads: A stunning new novel that reimagines the unexplained 11-day disappearance of Agatha Christie that captivated the world.

"A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman. It's a particular feeling, the urge to murder. First comes rage, larger than any you've ever imagined. It takes over your body so completely, it's like a divine force, grabbing hold of your will, your limbs, your psyche. It conveys a strength you never knew you possessed. Your hands, harmless until now, rise up to squeeze another person's life away. There's a joy to it. In retrospect, it's frightening, but I daresay in the moment it feels sweet. The way justice feels sweet."

So begins The Christie Affair, told from the point of view of Miss Nan O'Dea, a fictional character but based on someone real. In 1925, she infiltrated the wealthy, rarified world of author Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie. A world of London townhomes, country houses, shooting parties, and tennis matches. Nan O'Dea became Archie's mistress, luring him away from his devoted wife. In every way, she became a part of their world--first, both Christies. Then, just Archie.

The question is, why?

And what did it have to do with the mysterious eleven days that Agatha Christie went missing?

The answer takes you back time, to Ireland, to a young girl in love, to a time before The Great War. To a star-crossed couple who were destined to be together--until war and pandemic and shameful secrets tore them apart.

What makes a woman desperate enough to destroy another woman's marriage?

What makes someone vengeful enough to hatch a plot years in the making?

What drives someone to murder?

These questions and more are explored in Nina de Gramont's brilliant, unforgettable, lush, and powerful novel.

I am a massive fan of Agatha Christie. I've read all her books, most of them multiple times and eagerly snap up anything that references her. Thus, I was intrigued by this book, which promised a new take on her famous disappearance. When I started reading it I was very confused because some of the names didn't fit with what I knew of the story: Nancy Neele had become Nan O'Dea and Agatha's daughter, Rosalind had become Teddy. Although the blurb made it clear that the story was a fictional account of events, the change of names threw me a bit.

It rapidly became apparent, that Agatha's disappearance was actually a vehicle to allow Nan's own story to be told and what a compelling story it was, touching on some of the most horrific and heartbreaking aspects of Irish women's history. The story is well told and is incredibly moving. However, I felt at times that the Christie angle could almost have been dispensed with, or at least completely fictionalised with different character names for the protagonists. I think Nan's story is strong enough to stand on its own and I wondered if the decision to mesh it with the real story of Agatha Christie's disappearance was a marketing one (which i would 100% understand). If this was the case, it worked! I picked this book to review because of the Christie link but having read it, part of me feels it's a shame that some people might not fully appreciate the beauty of Nan's story because the Christie one is so famous and overshadows it.

I wanted more of both stories. Agatha felt more like a peripheral character, which is odd given that it's her name on the cover. If there had been more of her though, I would probably have felt cheated of Nan's story! The stories do blend well together, but it was difficult at times to separate out what I knew of the facts of the case from the fictional story in front of me.

I realise this makes it sound like I am lukewarm about the book. Let me be clear - I'm not. It's an enjoyable read and De Gramont is clearly a very talented writer. Her plotting is superb and the stories are woven together well. Yes, as some other reviews have pointed out, there are unlikely coincidences, but this is fiction - there are meant to be! I enjoyed the book and the unravelling and resolution of the sub-plot mystery was particularly satisfying. I found myself warming to Nan in spite of my desire to dislike her at the beginning and her motives were utterly convincing.

The blurb has been changed from what it was when I first saw it and it now makes it much clearer whose story is being told. This was a sensible decision from the publisher/author as it gives a much better idea of the book and readers will be better prepared for the contents. I think if you approach this book as a complete work of fiction and separate it from any prior knowledge of Christie's disappearance, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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