An Affair of the Heart

Author: Nina De Gramont

In December 1926, author Agatha Christie disappeared from her home. She left behind an abandoned car with her driver’s license still inside, inciting the biggest manhunt in British history for a missing person. After eleven days, the police finally found her staying at a spa town, claiming amnesia. But many suspected that Agatha left because of her husband’s torrid affair and the recent death of her mother. History will never be able to tell us, but author Nina De Gramont has ideas.

Told through the viewpoint of Agatha’s husband’s mistress, Nan O’Dea in the book, the story alternates between Nan’s own sorrowful history and Agatha’s slow reclamation of self in the light of her husband’s betrayal. It’s a thoughtful, explosive tale, one that is just as complicated and emotional as it is lyrical and imaginative. Did it really happen this way?

The story opens with Nan telling how she nearly killed a woman once. We expect that this dark femme fetal will be the charming villainess of the piece, laughing evilly over her plans to steal Agatha’s husband, no doubt for some reason far more nefarious than misplaced love. What we get, instead, is the heartbreaking story of Nan’s life, her real love, and a brutal convent for unwed mothers. Nan’s story is so strong, so filled with pathos, that it is impossible to hate her, and soon her own story of woe overshadows Agatha’s weaker side story. It’s Nan we expect to hate, and yet Nan whom we root for as present and past merges and Nan tries to justify her actions. What a tangled web indeed!

The Christie Archive Trust, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Agatha, the supposed star of the piece, is entirely less endearing and less important. Nan’s portrait of her is broad strokes, one of a strong woman who comes off as unreal. But, of course, this fits into Nan’s worldview, the ability to cartoonize this real woman and try to mitigate the pain of betrayal. It works, in some ways, but it would have been nice if Agatha had been as multifaceted as Nan. As it was, Agatha was ok, but we longed to reconnect with the dastardly mistress who is puppeteering more than one person as it turns out!

The Christie Affair ended up being one of my favorite books. I had trouble putting it down, and I was surprised by the lairs of the story and how nicely they all fit together. Like the best paced of mysteries, we get revelations at the appropriate time, always building on the story and the characters, mixing past and present in a melodious way that creates meaning and emotion while delivering murder and mayhem. The ending is both joyous and ultimately heartbreaking. This is a story that is based on reality, where every happily ever after has a price. Readers will want revenge and justice, root for love, and ultimately want to cry at the mess of human life, all avoidable and yet, so ultimately inevitable.

Nan’s narrative stays with us long after the book is closed. Making us question: in similar circumstances, just how far would we go?

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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