by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie)
Returning from a visit to her daughter in Iraq, Joan Scudamore finds herself unexpectedly alone and stranded in an isolated rest house by flooding of the railway tracks. This sudden solitude compels Joan to assess her life for the first time ever and face up to many of the truths about herself. Looking back over the years, Joan painfully re-examines her attitudes, relationships and actions and becomes increasingly uneasy about the person who is revealed to her.
This book was quite interesting. Nothing like I’ve ever read by Christie before. Quite profound really, and a bit uncomfortable. Joan has the perfect family, perfect house, perfect life. And she likes to take credit for all of it. She is a woman full of self-importance.
“Joan felt a little gentle glow as she turned away from her image in the glass. She thought, Well, it’s nice to feel one’s been a success at one’s job. I never wanted a career, or anything of that kind. I was quite content to be a wife and mother. I married the man I loved, and he’s been a success at his job – and perhaps that’s owing to me a bit too. One can do so much by influence.”
She goes to Iraq to ‘manage’ her daughter’s household and help out when Barbara is sick. The trip home is somewhat complicated with many connections and difficult terrain to get through. She runs into an old school friend, Blanche, at a Rest House in Baghdad as she waits overnight for the car to take her on to Tell Abu Hamid to the Turkish railway terminal to catch the train to London. An interesting conversation ensues revealing much about both women. Joan, almost bragging about how busy her life is and how essential she is to so many, comments that it would be wonderful to have a whole day or two with nothing to think about. Blanche retorts…
“I wonder, if you’d nothing to think about but yourself for days and days I wonder what you’d find out about yourself…”
Joan looked skeptical and faintly amused.
“Would one find out anything one didn’t know before?”
Blanche said slowly: “I think one might…”
The next morning Joan leaves by car for the long trip to the train station. Its the rainy season and the weather turns on them and the dirt roads are making travel rough. They barely make it through to the station and find when they get there they missed the train.
“That right, Memsahib. Miss train last night. Very unfortunate. Track very bad, rain very heavy in night. That means no cars can go to and from here to Mosul for somedays.”
“But the trains will be all right?”
Joan was not interested in the Mosul track.
You guessed it, the train did not make it the next day. Joan was stuck in the middle of the desert in a small Rest House with the Indian manager and one Arab boy. She had read all the books she brought with her and she had nothing to do with herself for several days but think!
Alone in the desert.
Alone in this very unpleasant prison-like room.
With nothing to think about but herself.
I was amazed that a story about one self absorbed woman stuck in the desert with nothing to do but think kept me turning pages! It was quite a fascinating book. It made me a little uncomfortable at times (was that the intended purpose?) wondering about my own motives and how others might perceive my actions.
Does Joan see herself clearly during this time or does she hold on to the veil she’s constructed about herself? Will she chose to act on the truths she finds? Excellent book!