Read with sharon - June 2022
The Christie Affair - Nina de Gramont
In 1925, Miss Nan O’Dea infiltrated the wealthy, rarefied world of author Agatha Christie and her husband, Archie. In every way, she became a part of their life––first, both Christies. Then, just Archie. Soon, Nan became Archie’s mistress, luring him away from his devoted wife, desperate to marry him. Nan’s plot didn’t begin the day she met Archie and Agatha.
It began decades before, in Ireland, when Nan was a young girl. She and the man she loved were a star-crossed couple who were destined to be together––until the Great War, a pandemic, and shameful secrets tore them apart. Then acts of unspeakable cruelty kept them separated.
What drives someone to murder? What will someone do in the name of love? What kind of crime can someone never forgive? Nina de Gramont’s brilliant, unforgettable novel explores these questions and more.
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It boasts many lyrical sentences, particularly in the final chapter, but “The Christie Affair” feels like it was abandoned in the middle of the editing process. Nina de Gramont’s narrator is secretary Nan O’Dea, who is having an affair with her boss, the husband of mystery writer Agatha Christie. It’s 1926, the year Christie actually did disappear for more than a week after husband Archie left her for his secretary, Nancy Neele (de Gramont uses real names but changed Neele’s).
Christie never explained her disappearance, which has inspired many speculative accounts, including the film “Agatha.” Eventually, we discover that de Gramont has concocted an intriguing if implausible theory, but it’s a struggle getting there because Christie, the lone sympathetic person in the story, is only a minor character and because O’Dea is such a confusing narrator.
De Gramont spends far too much time on O’Dea’s repetitive back story, invents a murder mystery but gives us no clues to solve it, muddles the timeline and, worst of all, has O’Dea describing events for which she could not have been present and diving into the thought processes of people she doesn’t even know.
A reimagining of Agatha Christie’s famous 11-day disappearance, adding a murder mystery worthy of the dame herself.
The bare facts are here just as they happened. In December 1926, having announced his intention to divorce her so he could marry his mistress, Christie’s husband took off to spend a weekend in the country. Sometime that night, Agatha left home, abandoning her car beside a nearby chalk quarry with a suitcase full of clothes inside. Eleven days later, after an internationally publicized manhunt, she turned up at a spa hotel in Harrogate, having signed in under the name of her husband’s lover. Upon that frame of fact, de Gramont weaves brilliantly imagined storylines for both the mistress and the writer, converging at the spa hotel, where not one but two guests promptly turn up dead. The novel is narrated by the mistress, here called Nan O’Dea, a complicated woman with many secrets. As she announces in the first line of the novel, “A long time ago in another country, I nearly killed a woman.” Nan is looking back at a time when she had larceny in mind, and it was Agatha’s husband she was aiming to steal, though one has to wonder why. Archie comes across as a whiny baby of a man who has this to say about his plan to dump his devoted wife: “There’s no making everybody happy….Somebody has got to be unhappy and I’m tired of it being me.” Archie aside, de Gramont has a gift for creating dreamy male characters: Both a “rumpled” police inspector called Chilton, who’s sent to the Harrogate area to look for the missing author, and a blue-eyed Irishman named Finbarr, who has a connection to Nan, are irresistible, and only more so due to the tragic toll taken on each by the war. De Gramont’s Agatha—who walks away from her disabled vehicle forgetting her suitcase but not her typewriter—is also easy to love. The story unfolds in a series of carefully placed vignettes you may find yourself reading and rereading, partly to get the details straight, partly to fully savor the well-turned phrases and the dry humor, partly so the book won’t have to end, damn it.
Devilishly clever, elegantly composed and structured—simply splendid.
The Christie Affair - Nina de Gramont
Book Club Questions
THE HEROINE’S JOURNEY
• Nan O’Dea is an unlikely protagonist. Did you find her sympathetic as the novel went on? Or did you believe her actions were self-serving?
- • In what ways is she an unreliable narrator for this story?
THE STORY PLOT
- • The novel is filled with many twists and turns. What were some of those major turning points that made you see both Nan and Agatha in a different light?
- • As the story progresses, we learn the true motivation behind Nan’s actions. Do you find Nan’s reasoning believable? Or is it all in her imagination?
- How was the pacing/structure (does it keep you engaged and are the stakes constantly escalating)?
- • Did you find the horrors of Magdalene Laundries in Ireland difficult to read? Did they distract from the story? Or help make Nan more sympathetic?
- • How did you feel about the romance between Agatha and the detective?
- • What do you think Agatha really did while she was missing for those 11 days?
- Did it work for you?
- What do you think is the author’s message to readers of The Christie Affair?
- What did you take away from the book?
SYMBOLISM AND FORESHADOWING
- Let’s talk about symbolism. What symbolism was used in the book?
- What foreshadowing did you notice?
- Use one adjective to describe the writing itself.
- What would you change if you could rewrite The Christie Affair?
- What did you love most about the book?