Reviewer Janet Walker: Janet is the author of Colour To Die For, first of the Fee Weston Mystery Series. Janet lives in Australia and when she is not writing about P.I. Fee Weston's fight for truth, justice and a livable cash flow, she writes articles for magazines and fund raises for Australia's wildlife carers - heroes of the bush. For more about Janet and Fee visit Janet's WEBSITE
Author : Hilary Macaskill
Publisher: Frances Lincoln Limited
At age 12, Agatha Christie took over my life; her mysteries making me forget homework and household chores. As a result of this favourite past time, I landed in terrible trouble with my mother and time with Agatha became rationed; only to be indulged after the two “H’s” had been completed. Teen years came and my passion for the Queen of Crime gave way to Georgette Heyer and Daphne Du Maurier – two grand gals of English literature. I have never though, forgotten the pleasure Agatha’s books gave to me; pleasure that has been revisited by reading Hilary Macaskill’s lovely book, Agatha Christie At Home.
Agatha Christie was born in 1890 to Frederick and Clarissa (Clara) Miller at their home, Ashfield, in Devon, an English county. Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson, writes in his foreword to Agatha Christie At Home that his grandmother loved Devonshire – something of a ‘collector’ of houses, Ashfield in Torquay, where Agatha grew up and Greenfield on the River Dart were homes that held special places in her affections.
Educated at home, Agatha taught herself to read before the age of five and with a much older sister and brother, led a rather solitary existence at Ashfield, imaginary companions created to fill the rooms of her doll’s house and accompany her on rambles in the garden, an expanse of lawns, woods and secret places (perfect for a girl who would become the world’s biggest selling novelist).
Hilary Macaskill’s description of Agatha Christie’s childhood is a delightful one where good manners and the conventions of the day were observed with a graciousness which (sigh) didn’t survive much past the 1950’s. The book’s early photographs of Agatha show her as sweet faced and serious, included is a photo of the possibly teenaged Agatha in her dance class, posed in loose flowing robes, the group’s air of innocence is charmingly evocative of the early twentieth century.
Agatha married Archie Christie in1914, when he was on leave from the Royal Flying Corps. The marriage produced a daughter, Rosamund, but ended unhappily in 1926; Archie was unfaithful, Agatha, distraught at his betrayal, disappeared, and was the subject of a police search which attracted widespread media attention. Life with Archie, did though produce one happy outcome – it kicked off Agatha’s career as a home owner, renovator, interior decorator and on occasion: landlady.
Agatha Christie At Home focuses on the houses that Agatha and her family and later, second husband, archeologist, Max Mallowan lived in. Before WWII Agatha owned eight houses; some purchased as investments, some to call home, all renovated with flair, the interiors planned with a keen eye for design and a delight in the purchase of items that make a house a home.
Hilary Macaskill skillfully links Agatha Christie’s residential purchases with the creation of her mysteries; houses and gardens where she resided or holidayed became the settings for new books, residents of nearby villages appropriated for characters. Agatha, a hardworking author, while enjoying the creation of her exciting mysteries was a woman of great practicality, she liked writing but also liked the rewards it brought her – if one of her houses needed a tweak, perhaps a conservatory could morph into a loggia, money from book sales spent on renovating was in Agatha’s opinion: money well spent. A thoughtful, generous woman, she nurtured her houses in the same way she nurtured her family and friends – with loving care.
Agatha Christie At Home is illustrated with photos of Agatha and her family (some rare), interior/exterior shots of her homes and glorious colour images of Devon, most particularly views of the River Dart and Greenway, Agatha’s home.
Bought in 1938, Greenway provided Agatha Christie with inspiration for her books and a happy haven for her family and friends.
Properly appreciative of the role servants played in her homes, Agatha bemoaned the difficulty of finding domestic help for her homes. She did though, find staff, most of who stayed for years, becoming friends of the family. Contained in the book are some delightful recollections of life with the Christie family from a former butler.
Hilary Macaskill, a London based journalist and travel writer, has used wide ranging research skills to create Agatha Christie At Home; source material is drawn from family, friends, professional colleagues and Agatha Christie’s autobiography, the text illustrated with archival images and fascinating glimpses of Agatha Christie’s houses and gardens.
Dame Agatha died in 1976, and whatever she’s doing now, I’m sure she would agree – this is a lovely read.