And Then There Were None
Yay! The Agatha Christie Summer Read-Along kicks off with the 75th anniversary edition of And Then There Were None. As I started reading the book, I realized I had read it before, many years ago, under the title Ten Little Indians. Intrigued, I looked the book up on Wikipedia to learn more about the title change. I had correctly assumed the reason for the change, but I had no idea that the original title of the book was far worse.
Oh, Agatha… Sigh.
Questionable word choices aside, the book is a great mystery that holds up wonderfully well despite the many years that have passed. I could easily see a modern version of the story taking place on a remote island with bad cell phone reception. Does vigilante justice ever really go out of style? I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of one of Christie’s most famous tales. Now on to the discussion questions!
1- When we first meet the “ten soldiers,” while they may not have been the best group of people, you don’t necessarily wish them ill will. As their pasts are revealed and their true personalities unmasked, did you feel any sympathy for them as a victim of the situation? Do you think that we, the reader, were predisposed to dislike certain characters more and feel sympathy for others?
Vera was a sympathetic character to me, despite the horrible nature of her crime. She lived in a time where you couldn’t just marry who you wanted and social status and inheritance laws were immutable. While she went about it all wrong, I do feel like she was a victim of a society too harsh in its treatment of women. Macarthur seemed old and a bit batty – making him a sympathetic character to me as well. His crime was also a crime of passion or love – distasteful as it may have been.
It was hard to feel sorry for Marsten or Lombard as they were completely unapologetic about their crimes. Emily Brent was so rigid and fixed that I just couldn’t like her, regardless of how I felt about her guilt or innocence.
2- Each soldier was initially defined by their stature or position in life, did that change for any of them as the story progressed, or did they rely more on their roles off the island for survival?
If anything, I feel like they reverted more and more to type.
3- One of the themes present throughout And Then There Were None is guilt and the effect it can have on a person. How did each character deal with the guilt of their past crimes? Who handled it the best? And who was the most torn up from it?
Vera was clearly wracked with guilt over her own crime, and given the heinous nature of said crime, that’s no surprise. She also had a particularly poor outcome – she didn’t achieve anything by letting her young charge drown. If anything she ruined a potential romance. Would she have felt quite so guilty if all had gone as she hoped and she was happily wed? Who can say. Anthony James Marston didn’t seem to feel guilty at all – granted he wasn’t around very long to establish that fact. Emily Brent also seemed to feel her soul was at peace with what she had done. Her moral righteousness seemed impeachable in her own mind.
4- What did you think of the use of “Ten Little Soldiers” throughout the book, both the poem posted in the bedrooms and the little disappearing figurines on the dining room table? How do they both figure into the story? Do you think the reminder of the “Ten Little Soldiers” poem was necessary throughout the story?
I enjoyed the use of the poem and the way each murder tied into the verses. I needed the reminders as I found myself constantly flipping back to the beginning of the novel to reread the poem in an attempt to guess who would be the next to die!
5- If you were trapped on Soldier Island, which character’s behavior would you most identify with and why? If not, what would you have done differently?
I would like to think I would have made more of an attempt to escape. I certainly wouldn’t have eaten canned tongue every day out of what we were constantly reminded was a well-stocked pantry.
6- From the very beginning certain characters are drawn to each other to form alliances in their strange situation—at first Vera and Emily, later Blore, Armstrong, and Lombard, Armstrong and Wargrave, and then Vera and Lombard. What do you think brought them together? How do these alliances affect events?
I’m not sure the alliances affected the events in any way. “Unknown” seemed to have quite the plan all along. It was merely a matter of waiting for an opportunity to strike. Although Mrs. Rogers in particular seemed to play right into his scheme, I’m not sure “Unknown” would have deviated much despite what alliances were formed.
7- Did you have your own theories about who Unknown was before getting to the “Manuscript Document” and if so, at what point?
I was suspicious right up until he (apparently) died. At no point did I believe it could be one of the women. Despite repeated claims that the killer could have been Vera or Brent, I didn’t see it as possible.
8- It’s widely commented that Christie “violated the standard rules of mystery writing” by making it nearly impossible for us to solve the mystery before she explains it to us. How did that make you feel as a reader?
I loved the twist. If Christie broke the rules, it only made me love the story more!
9- As Agatha wrote in her author’s note, the plot was so simple, yet so baffling, that she herself was most pleased with the outcome for having done it. Are there any mysteries from recent years that you think come close to what she accomplished here?
The use of poetry, red herrings, misdirection and punishment for crimes (real or imagined) reminded me of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.