Saturday, April 12, 2008

There Is a Tide

by Barbara D'Amato

We’re about to launch into our two-week Raymond Chandler binge, so I thought I’d take a look at one of his predecessors, Agatha Christie. I’ve recently been rereading THERE IS A TIDE . . . . It was first published in 1948, just six years before THE LONG GOODBYE, [1954]. Both books deal with aspects of the post-World War II years. The central question in THE LONG GOODBYE is the character of a man altered by fighting in the war. Christie, not surprisingly, is more embedded in the aftereffects of the war and the changes in British society. The Brits lost close to 400,000 people in military deaths, and that doesn’t include civilians killed in bombing raids, or non-military personnel, like ambulance drivers, medical support, and so on, at the front. There was no town in the U.K., and scarcely any family, without its losses. The war changed British society to a degree Americans couldn’t imagine.

The story:

Wealthy Gordon Cloade is killed in the Blitz, the house he was in destroyed and four people in it killed. His widow, Rosaleen, stunned by the blast, inherits his estate and moves to his family home in Warmsley Vale. Her former husband disappeared in Africa and was reported dead. Now there are rumors he may have faked his death. Gordon Cloade had promised to help his several strapped relatives financially, but the widow has no reason to do so. However, if her former husband never died, she was not legitimately married to Cloade and cannot inherit his estate.

The characters include Cloade’s niece Lynn who had served in the Wrens during the war. Lynn has seen the world. She has come back to Warmsley Vale much changed, finding her home and tame and small. Her longtime fiancé has stayed at home through the war because as a farmer his production was vital to the war effort. He now feels that the world and his fiancée look down on him for not having served.

There are Christie’s deft, Rembrandt sketches of the possibly-stodgy fiancé, several Cloade relatives, and of Rosaleen’s brother David, a bold, risk-taking young man with a wonderful war record—just the sort who doesn’t do well in peacetime.

The novel has all of Christie’s legendary smoke and mirrors. And mirrors behind mirrors. Chandler and Christie have somewhat similar writing techniques--short, declarative sentences, not heavily reliant on subordinate clauses and flowery touches, although Chandler is much more into simile and metaphor than Christie, despite the fact that the writer character in THE LONG GOODBYE seems to belittle simile.

THERE IS A TIDE . . . is not Christie’s best work. It is somewhat too complicated, a criticism which could be made of THE LONG GOODBYE as well. And a minor flaw is that the resolution of the romance between the lead character and the pre-war fiancé is a little pat. However, it is a wonderful time capsule, a picture of a bomb-blasted culture in the years immediately following the war. And an interesting contrast to THE LONG GOODBYE.


kathz said...

I believe the original title (in England) is Taken at the Flood. The quotation comes from the same speech by Cassius in Julius Caesar - as I recall, "There is a tide in the affairs of men/ That, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune ..."

Barbara D'Amato said...

And why ever did they change it? It's really annoying to buy a book and find you bought it before under a different title. Of course, maybe that is exactly why they change them. Some of Christie's titles were said to have been changed to make them more American-friendly. Gee!

Thanks for writing, kathz.

kathz said...

The book is still Taken at the Flood in the U.K. There are many such changes including, particularly of Christie titles, but including Sara Paretsky's Blood Shot which is published as Toxic Shock in the U.K.