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A Song of Fire and Ice, Part II : The Stags and the Dragons

Spoilers for Game of Thrones TV series and A Song of Fire and Ice fantasy series below.

HBO’s Game of Thrones series is a marvel. It does not quite compare to the book, but the truth is that the book and the show have become quite seperate, and to criticize the TV series for ‘disappointing’ my expectations is to do HBO an injustice. We are already at episode 6, and each episode just gets better and better – the games of power, the farce of justice at Eyrie, the bloody ceremonies at Vaes Dothrak – the pace is picking up, and we’re being swept along!

The Baratheons : youngest of the Great Houses

The Baratheons are a powerful but reckless house given to extremeties of character. Robert Baratheon, first of his name, Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms and Usurper of the Targaryens’ throne, once “muscled like maiden’s fantasy”, now a fat and ineffective man, is the eldest son of Stefford Baratheon. His second brother, Stannis Baratheon (who does not appear yet), is a strict and puritan man who detests immorality and passion of any sort, while Renly Baratheon, about eleven-or-so years younger than Robert, is a vain, handsome, and powerful man.

Mark Addy does a wonderfully fat, blustering king Robert. During his fifteen years of kingship, Robert’s careless indulgence has squandered whatever wealth and power the Targaryens once had. The Iron Throne is severely in debt, and Robert is cornered by his dependence on the Lannisters’ wealth. Meanwhile, Robert has never let go of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s younger sister and Robert’s only love; his inability to move on has destroyed Robert’s marriage to Cersei and made him unreasonably vengeful towards the surviving Targaryens. The TV series makes prominent Lyanna’s ghost during a heart-to-heart chat between king and queen in episode 5, that never appears in the book. “What harm could Lyanna Stark’s ghost do to us, that we haven’t done to each other a hundred times over?” Cersei asks Robert mockingly. In the book, it is our honourable Ned Stark who asks Cersei why she hates Robert so, and she replies,

“The night of our wedding feast, the first time we shared a bed, he called me by your sister’s name. He was on top of me, in me, stinking of wine, and he whispered, Lyanna.”Cersei Lannister.

Like all things GRRM, character relationships are more intricate than they seem, and thus it is that the relationship between the Baratheons and the Targaryens goes deeper than that of past and present rulers – but to talk of the Targaryens is to talk of the Targaryens, the Starks, the Lannisters and the Baratheons all at once; and here, I think, is where the TV series lacks sufficient explanation. I will try to sort things out.

 

 

The Game of Thrones emblem includes the sigils of the dragon, the direwolf, the lion and the stag, for the whole war begins with them. Fifteen years before the Game of Thrones, the last Targaryen King was Aerys Targaryen, and his son was prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Jaime Lannister, the youngest ever knight in the Kingsguard, was a sworn protector of Aerys. Cersei Lannister was betrothed to, and fell in love with, Rhaegar; however, Rhaegar and Lyanna Stark loved one another while Robert Baratheon’s affection for Lyanna was unrequited. When Robert eventually declared war against King Aerys, the Starks were his strongest ally. Mad with jealousy, Robert killed Rhaegar, but Lyanna died during the battle, too. Jaime Lannister slew his own king and from then on was called the Kingslayer. Jaime handed the throne to Ned Stark who handed it to Robert, because neither of them wanted to rule. Cersei was wed to Robert by her father, Tywin Lannister; Jaime Lannister was pardoned by Robert and made part of Robert’s Kingsguard.

In the game of thrones, you win or you die.

Of the Targaryens who survived the sack of Kings Landing, there were only Viserys and Daenerys, Rhaegar’s younger brother and sister. These two have since grown up in the Eastern Continent of Essos, far away from the Seven Kingdoms, and it is the remaining Targaryen royalty that King Robert now feels threatened by.

And so we are introduced to Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen, last of the Dragons.

The Targaryens sigil is a three headed dragon, and their words are Fire and Blood. The Dragon Kings are a great house, and a mad house. They have ruled for millenia, always marrying brother to sister to keep their lines pure, and from this continuous incest stems their unchecked violence, paranoia and megalomania.

“I’d let (Khal Drogo’s) whole Khalasar fuck you if need be, sweet sister, all forty thousand men, and their horses too, if that was what it took to get me my army.” – Viserys Targaryen to his younger sister, Daenerys.

Played by Harry Lloyd and Emilia Clarke respectively, both Viserys and Daenerys are perfectly as I imagined – except that they forgot to dye their eyebrows silver as well, but that is inconsequential. Viserys’s single minded obsession with raising an army and retake the Iron Throne make him a sick, unlovable character, but Harry Lloyd portrays Viserys’s pitiful, ruthless desperation effortlessly and milks Viserys’s insanity for all it is worth. I think Viserys’s pre-death scene was made incredibly memorable by Lloyd’s half drunken, half fey expression, movement and speech.

Khal Drogo and Khaleesi Daenerys

Daenerys was sold to the great Dothraki warrior, Khal Drogo, by her brother, so that that Viserys might have the Khal’s army to invade the Seven Kingdoms with. With a khalasar (a nomadic kingdom) of a hundred thousand people, and so rich even his slaves wore collars made of gold, Drogo was the most powerful Khal of the Dothraki lands. His warrior’s braid had never been cut, to signify that Drogo had never been defeated in battle.

My version of Khal Drogo was darker, and with an actual braid. Otherwise, yes. The guttural Dothraki language, the size and the quiet ferociousness, it’s all there. Khal Drogo (Jason Mamoa) and his bloodriders are awesome.

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A Song of Ice and Fire, Part I : Of Wolves and Lions

 

 “…Characters so venemous they could eat the Borgias.”

 – The Guardian review for George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.
 

House Lannister. "The gold of Casterly Rock and the Golden Tooth has made them the wealthiest of the Great Houses."

I couldn’t say it any better. Martin tells his story by making you a king, a scullery maid, a eunuch, a cripple, a kingslayer, a bastard, a horselord’s slut, a queen, a traitor, a runaway, a knight, and that doesn’t even cover half of his splendid cast. Nobody is good or bad, they are only completely, painfully real, desperate to survive – and to survive, they shy from nothing. It isn’t gratuitous, it’s necessary. Black magic, resurrection, slavery, necrophilia, bestiality, twincest, fatricide, cannibalism, you name it, they’ve done it, to say nothing of murder, manipulation and deception. With five kings waging war for power and an apocalyptic decade-long winter on the horizon, Martin’s story stops at nothing to pull one entirely into the continents of Essos and Westeros.

So when HBO launched a TV adaptation of Ice and Fire, named the series Game of Thrones after the first novel in the series, I was quite convinced that no TV show could ever do justice to Martin’s epic fantasy –  Harry Potter was rather painful and the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, while excellent, deviated from the book by a substantial margin. Misgivings aside, I was still eager to see what HBO could come up with.

The clockwork style opening sequence reminds me strongly of Neil Gaiman and his world-beyond-the-wall, which is an odd, absurd and enjoyable mix of magic, technology and mythology. I love the tilting perspective as the camera sweeps over the map of Westeros and the way each actor’s name is shown with the sigil of his character. After all, to say that Martin did put a lot of effort into making each house distinct is a gross understatement…

 The carousel-ish ‘growth’ of towers and fortresses make each place look very much like gears and cogs of a monstrously sophisticated lego set. I’m quite divided over this, because while the reference to construction and puppetry is on its own original and very well done, I thought it lacked the graphic and visceral style of Ice and Fire.

 

The first scene of Winter beyond the wall was disappointing. I was looking forward to the bone numbing chill, the silent, graceful walkers, a duel between the Others and the men of the Nightwatch. The white walkers were snarling goblin rather than the silent, graceful wraiths I’d hoped for, and the entire chase felt rather cobbled. This was one of those filmed-for-the-sake-of-following-the-book scenes that didn’t add much to the TV series. It wasn’t a promising start. 

 

Benjen Stark, younger brother of Eddard Stark, First Ranger of the Nightwatch

Things pick up once we shift to Winterfell, the fortress in the North. The Starks were Kings of Winter for thousands of years, until they chose not to fight Aegon the Dragon King of Valyria, and swore fealty to House Targaryen.

Winter is coming. The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.

Ned Stark (Sean Bean), Warden in the North and Catelyn Tully (Michelle Fairley), his wife, are very well played. Their children are Robb (Richard Maden),  Brandon (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington). I imagined Ned with a longer and thinner face, but Sean Bean’s sombre demeanour is otherwise very becoming. I thought Robb Stark should have had a more jovial and commanding presence. Benjen Stark has the strongest likeness to my imagination – hard boiled, battle-worn, long faced. Thumbs up to the Stark Household.  

  Hear Me Roar!   

Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer

Enter the Lannisters and their golden pride. Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, the handsomest man in the Seven Kingdoms, the youngest knight ever in the royal Kingsguard, insolent, gorgeous, admired. Cersei Lannister, Jaime’s older twin, queen of the Seven Kingdoms and famous for her beauty and despised for her treachery. Are they physically irresistable? You decide. For all that my fellow fan and I complained incessantly about the Lannister twins’ looks, we agreed on one thing – Jaime’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)  likeable-badass charm is very effective. Cersei (Lena Hadley) starts a little ‘off’ but then slides nicely into her roll. I’m looking forward to more of her poisonous scheming. 

  

 

 

Cersei Lannister, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms

“I’ll kill (your husband King Robert to get you). The singers can make a ballad about it – The war for Cersei’s cunt, they’ll call it.” – Ser Jaime Lannister, the Kingslayer, to Cersei Lannister, his twin sister.

 

The most perfectly played character by far is Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), an unloved blemish in the otherwiseperfect Lannister family. The lecherous, ribald dwarf is an ugly, stunted dwarf whose deformity has been made worse by constant comparison to his beautiful and powerful elder siblings, yet there is (thankfully) none of the tiresome angst and vulnerability that usually accompany such unfortunate characters. A lifetime of ridicule has made Tyrion discerning, sharp tongued and shameless; like his brother Jaime, he has a penchant for morbid and licentious humour. 

Tyrion Lannisters, known also as the Half-man

  

 

“(If I took the Black I’d have to) go celibate; the whores would go begging from Dorne to Casterly Rock! No, I just want to stand on the wall and piss off the edge of the world.”-Tyrion Lannister’s reply with regards to wanting to visit the Nightwatch


Women’s literature – Passing Under Heaven

I have a prejudice against what I call “women-life-stories” – the kind of book that narrates the life story of a girl, because I am too impatient for the slow, often ruminative style of sharing and reflection that the recount of a woman’s life almost necessarily entails. Therefore, I nearly passed this book over upon reading the blurb :

Married at sixteen; divorced at nineteen; executed at twenty six.

In the twilight years of the Tang Dynasty, a young girl is given up by her mother and orphaned before she is five years old, yet rises to become one of the most famous and celebrated women of her age…”

I stopped there, thinking it was another of those stories celebrating the indomitable feminine spirit (I’ve had enough of sub-par determined-woman-finds-meaning-in-life books) and would have completely passed it by if I hadn’t suddenly recalled how much I enjoyed Arthur Golden’s “Memoirs of a Geisha“. Just as Arthur Golden had extensive exposure to Japanese culture, so was Justin Hill familiar with Chinese culture, having lived in China for several years (or so I researched)…I decided to give Passing Under Heaven a try.

I was beguiled by Hill’s simple, flowing prose. This is not a book that seizes your imagination and yanks you along at breakneck pace, but the ephemeral quality of it is equally entrancing. There is none of the dense metaphors and indulgent description I was cynically expecting. Instead, Hill moves the reader’s attention from the harsh life of women to the culture of the Tang dynasty with elegance. Little Hope, the only daughter of Concubine Hwa, is orphaned at seven and adopted into another family as Little Flower. As a woman she is named Lily, and pon being sold as a concubine to Minister Li, she becomes Mistress Yu. Minister Li has to juggle his grandmother’s dislike for concubines, his own wife, as well as Lily’s affections at once, while Lily, craving for purpose and excitement, is stifled by the docility and submission expected from women in the Tang dynasty. The tormented love between Minister Li and Lily is as classic a symbol in the Tang Dynasty as Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s love is in the Victorian Era.

From The Manual For Instructing Women.

To be his.

To serve him.

To lie in his arms at night.

To fold his garments.

To bring him his food.

To pour his tea.

To heal his headaches.

To obey his commands.

To obey the commands of his mother.

To test the flavour of a dish or the heat of the wine.

To care for him in his old age.

These will be your joys in life.

The relationship between Minister Li and Concubine Lily soon sours terribly, and while Lily manages to leave the minister, neither she nor Minister Li truly get over their love. Lily becomes both a notorious seductress and a skilled poetess before eventually being punished for her crimes. More than a love story, Passing Under Heaven is a understated yet powerful book about the society of China a thousand years ago. The details on culture and era were believable and evocative; on the whole, the book was thoroughly enjoyable. For the Guardian review, see here.


Detective fiction – Sparkling Cyanide (Remembered Death)

I have mixed thoughts on Sparkling Cyanide. Rosemary Barton, a spoiled and beautiful heiress, was fatally poisoned at her own birthday party. For want of conclusive evidence suggesting otherwise, the case was closed as “suicide”. However, less than a year after Rosemary’s death, her husband, George Barton, receives anonymous letters indicating that Rosemary was a victim of murder. George takes it upon himself to re-investigate the circumstances of Rosemary’s alleged suicide. The witnesses of Rosemary’s death, each a potential murderer in the reader’s eyes, take turns to contemplate their opinions of, and relationships with, the late Rosemary.

These characters’ monologues make the strongest case for Sparkling Cyanide; they are by turns entertaining and sobering, and each has an intriguing mix of detective reasoning and human psychology. Neither a Hercule Poirot nor a Miss Marple mystery, the detective of this story is Colonel Johnnie Race, introduced mid-book as one who is “not good at small talk and might indeed have posed as the model of a strong silent man so beloved by an earlier generation of novelists.” Race is very likeable, calm and ineffable like Christie’s detectives are, with a bit of a paranoid, “Alastor Mad-Eye Moody” (JK Rowling’s Harry Potter) reputation. 

Alongside the murder mystery is a dexterous narration of love in its various forms. Marriage and (in)fidelity are recurrents motive for each suspect and their personal lives are well depicted without overshadowing the main plot. Of George brooding over Rosemary’s extra marital affair, Christie writes :

“He’d known quick enough, sensed the difference in her. The rising excitement, the added beauty, the whole glowing radiance.”

A foil to the frivolous and selfish Rosemary is Alexandra Farraday, intelligent but awkward, outwardly reserved but inwardly passionate.

“From the day of their marriage she had realized that he did not love her in the same way as she loved him…That power of loving was her own unhappy heritage. To care with a desperation, an intensity that was, she knew, unusual among women! She would have died for him willingly; she was ready to lie for him, scheme with him, suffer for him! Instead she accepted with pride and reserve the place he wanted her to fill. He wanted her co-operation, her sympathy, her active and intellectual help. He wanted of her, not her heart, but her brains, and those material advantages with birth had given her. One thing she would never do, embarrass him by the expression of a devotion to which he could make no adequate return…(even after knowing of his affair), never for one minute did Sandra consider leaving him. The idea never even came to her. She was his, body and soul, to take or discard. He was her life, her existence. Love burned in her with a medieval force.”

Thumbs up also for Christie’s moments of dry humour, which avoid the trap of exasperating readers. In portraying a constantly distracted, extremely talkative aunt who has “stiffened into a pronouced spinsterhood”, Christie explains her convulated and confusing thoughts : “Aunt Lucilla’s reasoning was always crystal clear to herself.”

Since the novel is about romantic love, I also like the touch of closure the two youngest protagonists, Anthony and Iris, bring when they fall for each other and discuss their marriage at the end of the book :

“All that (murder) for money! […] Anthony – I don’t think I like my money very much. ” 

“All right, sweet – we’ll do something noble with it if you like. I’ve got enough money to live on – and to keep a wife in reasonable comfort. We’ll give it all away if you like – endow homes for children, or provide free tobaccol for old men, or – how about a campaign for serving better coffee all over England?”

“I shall keep a little,” said Iris. “So that if I ever wanted to, I could be grand and walk out and leave you.”

“I don’t think, Iris, that that is the right spirit to enter upon married life.”

Agatha Christie captures a memorable cast of narrators and suspects, but the resolution fails to impress. The climax of the book, if well dramatized, is unsurprising. The explanation of the murder itself is thoroughly hurried through, the motive is thin and the murderer’s modus-operandi not ingenious enough after the suspense of the novel. For someone who was stumped by the possibilities and eager for the murderer to be revealed, I was quite disappointed. Looking back, although Sparkling Cyanide seems like one of those books which have been “written into a corner”, it still is a very worthwhile read.



This coupon entitles the bearer too …

 

Hence passes the big-ol’ be-all-and-end-all school term, leaving me, finally, after having suckerpunched some academic discipline and restrain into myself, living too much in the past and too little in the present. Glorifying yourself with fragments of old wealth, faded beauty, once-youth, long-ago-vitality, recollections strong enough to leave you breathless and insane, frantic with your own delusions, like Blanche Dubois. Like Anwell, like poor, frightened, pathetic Charles Kingshaw. My beloved psychedelic protagonists – to think that after I have dissected your motives and circumstances and served it up proudly on fresh, blank paper, I would end up like you – pitiful and neurotic! How present I was then. Imagine Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry making sense only after I no longer need it to. 

 

“The film is on a loop.
…You remember little things. Telling stories
or pretending to be strong. Mommy’s never wrong.”

Whoever She Was, by Carol Ann Duffy

You placate a sudden, restless emptiness with flotsam and jetsam inconsequential goals. Completing the Sinnoh-dex. Achieving maximum tactician stats. Re-reading character supports. You remember (or pretend to have known) love, lovers, loving, but really, it’s mostly just the little things. I don’t even know what they are, really. Uh : you-me-I -?- sounds schizoprenic even to your-my ears.

I don’t – I wish – I want I do – I came up with a whole family I’d love to have. A cross between the Russian and Irish wolfhound, called Taichou, or Tai (Ty) for short. A Belgian shepherd (groenendel), called Inferos, or Ros for short. A Norweigian terrier I want to call Shin, short for Shinpachi. An Afghan hound, named Khal Drogo, either Khal or Drogo for short. And a labrador retriever. I really only had one but once he’s gone, now I have five! Five. There they go again, beloved, multiplying all out of proportion. Rabid as Chuck Palaniuk’s Buster Rant Casey.

Hot damn, but talk about wickedly good covers and wickedly good books. I’m game for anything brutal and visceral as long as its well written, and while (normal) kids should stay away from Rant, adults could learn a bit or two from it.  Finding the guts to love Palaniuk’s books is something like cultivating an acquired taste – it’s a little trying to read beneath the gore and the fragmented narrative style. I’m more favourably inclined to Palaniuk’s book than this book reviewer; however, it is is a good summary and the criticisms are valid.   

 

  

After our pre-Chinese New Year gathering for Assisi Hospice

Wow – stocking mandarins on trees! An angbao (with a condom and a sleazy coupon, no less!) from the illustrious WifeEe and Wife#1! Thank you for the moments I’m too lost to remember.



Cold wind and clear sky. PS Wish You Were Here.


Detective fiction – Evil Under the Sun

(Disclaimer : The following is purely my own opinion. No hard feelings intended, and comments always welcome.)

I’ve mentioned before that most would-be-catchy book titles warn me off pretty effectively, but this is largely untrue for Agatha Christie titles. For one, her tried-and-tested ‘old school’ writing style guarantees good language, description and narration – winning half the battle for a good book. For two, (for two?? Is this correct??) Harper Collins (one of my preferred publishers) uses an elegant, quietly confident design for Christie’s books, meaning that even the loudest titles are balanced by subtle colours and fonts. I couldn’t find my edition of Evil Under the Sun online, and in the previous version of this post I used the ‘newer’, standardized Harper Collins edition of Agatha Christie. Then I hit upon the brainwave of bluetooth-ing the image of my book cover to the computer! (I am so tech savvy now!) So here now is the edition of Evil Under the Sun that I have. A pity the old design – apparently the signature edition one – seems to be unavailable now. Good book covers are always worth admiring. I particularly like the embossed “POIROT” on the bottom right corner.  

Evil Under the Sun has been made into a movie, a computer game (Wii??) so far, and it’s often in the “Poirot classics” collection – which says something about it’s positive reviews so far. This Christie involves Poirot investigating the murder of a beautiful actress while he is on a holiday by the beach. Expect the usual set of puzzling clues, the appreciable leisurely character development, the turning of Poirot’s mental cogs and the quivering of his incredible mustachios, and yet another unexpected ending.

However, something about Evil Under the Sun lacks completeness. The story begins with engaging characters and an exploration of some interesting concepts, but once the murder takes place, the book’s focus on clue-finding and suspect-eliminating takes centerstage, cutting short character and concept development. I would have liked more thorough portrayal of evil and predation, which, after all, drives the killer’s actions. To explain it with “it is natural instinct to murder for money” is not only abrupt but disappointing; even if predatory instinct was deemed largely animalistic in Christie’s time, I’d expected a better psychoanalysis on Poirot’s part. Furthermore, while the method of murder itself is ingenius, I find it unbelievable that Poirot was able to unravel the entire sequence of events. For me, the lack of conviction is due in part to Poirot makes one too many “lucky guesses” this time.

As with many Five Little Pigs (can’t generalize with other Christie books), Evil Under the Sun has its characters exploring values like love, loyalty and marriage. In broader terms, Christie’s murders address the conflict of ideals between Victorian society and modern society. It adds suitable societal background to the book without digging up sordid pasts or dwelling on angsty scenes. From Five Little Pigs and Evil Under the Sun, it seems safe to trust Agatha Christie with a tasteful, well written and intelligent mystery. Since the reviews of this book have been largely positive, I would go ahead and recommend it anyway.


Detective fiction – Five Little Pigs (Murder in Retrospect)

Disclaimer : The following is purely my own opinion. No hard feelings, and comments are always welcome.

Other than some devious smart-talking in Powerpuff Girls monopoly, five whole days with the Raju gang has left me severely starved of intellectual activity. Luckily for me, I have enough books to restart my mental faculties, while remaining well within the boundaries of my no-working-only-slacking promise to myself.

So my cloggy innards were itching for a good detective fiction. Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, or Watson and Holmes? I cleave invariably to the funny little Belgian detective with the large moustache and the “little grey cells”, so Hercule Poirot it was – although I’ll admit to having never really acknowledged the quality of Agatha Christie’s writing until only two days ago. Now that I do, my only defence is that I read Agatha Christie alongside writers like R.L. Stine (Goosebumps series) and Enid Blyton (The Wishing Chair, the Secret Seven the Famous Five, etc). That is to say, I read Agatha Christie’s novels when I was around 7 or 8, long before I was mentally ‘equipped’ to appreciate a good detective novel. Other than my favourite Poirot case, Curtain, which I read (and stupidly misplaced) nearly ten years ago, I recall almost nothing of all the other Agatha Christie novels I’ve read.

I decided on Five Little Pigs this time. The alternative title is Murder in Retrospect, which is rather more appropriate a title, since the book involves Hercule Poirot investigating a murder case which was closed sixteen years ago. Carla Lemarchant, daughter of convicted murderess Caroline Crale, is convinced of her mother’s innocence and recruits Poirot’s remarkable detective prowess to clear her mother’s name. Knowing full well that the crime scene can no longer be accessed, Hercule Poirot is nevertheless confident that “psychology doesn’t change with time. The tangible things are gone – the cigarette-end and the footprints and the bent blades of grass. You can’t look for those anymore. But you can still go over all the facts of the case…and then lie back in your chair and think. And you’ll know what really happened.” Thus armed with his formidable and imaginative brain, Hercule Poirot interviews those who were involved in the crime sixteen years ago and pieces together, from their recollections, the truth that will acquit Caroline Crale of any charge.

“…with the passage of time, the mind retains a hold on essentials and rejects superficial matters.

“We are speaking now from the psychological point of view. I do not want bare facts. I want your own selection of facts. Time and your memory are responsible for that selection.”

I have read that Five Little Pigs is the best of Christie’s Hercule Poirot collection, and while I have no other Christie to compare it to, it was definitely a very enjoyable and stimulating read. The crime is covered from ten different perspectives (friends, police reports, lawyer, etc), allowing Poirot to pick out little details and construct his own version of what really happened. As a mark of excellence, Christie does not allow the repetition to become tiresome, but uses the opportunity to capture each storyteller realistically and distinctively. Aside from developing a solid, convincing cast, Christie lets readers compare personality with testimony and judge each character’ on truthfulness (the characters do lie!). Discerning readers will be able to spot the inconsistencies through the multiple-narrative technique, pick up character traits and biasness, and guess the real murderer before the denouement. Furthermore, Poirot – or Christie – has a superb understanding of human psychology and presents, very comprehensively, the human impulses that are often abstract, vague, and not easily described in words. 

“Do you know the way that things suddenly come back to you – after years, perhaps. I was once staying at a hotel. As I walked along a passage, one of the bedroom doors opened and a woman I knew came out. It was not her bedroom – and she registered the fact plainly on her face when she saw me.

“And I knew then the meaning of the expression I had once seen on Caroline’s face when, at Alderbury, she came out of Philip Blake’s room one night.

“I had no idea at the time, you understand. I knew things…but I didn’t connect them with reality. Caroline coming out of Philip Blake’s bedroom was just Caroline coming out of Philip Blake’s bedroom to me. It might have been Miss William’s room or my room. But what I did notice was the expression on her face – a queer expression that I didn’t know and couldn’t understand. I didn’t understand it until, as I told you, the night in Paris when I saw that same expression on another woman’s face. ” – Angela Warren, to Hercule Poirot

And Hercule Poirot himself – what a very marvelous character! – marvelous in the way that Arthur Weasley beams and says of muggles and their ‘ekeltricity’, “marvelous!” By any definition of the word Poirot should be ‘intriguing’ and ‘fascinating’, but these words connote a dynamic and compelling protagonist, which does not square with the quaint, foreign, odd little Hercule Poirot. There are many protagonists who are charismatic and forceful, who can herd and gather and direct the thoughts and actions of others. But Poirot is not one of them, and that is why he is so remarkable. Poirot is a hero who does not convince and does not influence – it is not his job to do so. Poirot goes out of his way to be “despised, but patronised”, a “most impossible person – the wrong clothes – button boots! – an incredible moustache! – a foreigner.”

“Hercule Poirot prided himself on knowing how to handle an ‘old school tie’ (a colloquial term for the usually conservative, slightly exclusive upper-class Englishman). It was no moment for trying to seem English. No, one must be a foreigner – frankly a foreigner – and be magnanimously forgiven for the fact. ‘Of course, these foreigners don’t quite know the ropes. Will shake hands at breakfast. Still, a decent fellow really…'”

My only problem was the unrealistic clarity with which a sixteen-years-ago event is recalled. Facial expressions, standing positions, exact words and phrases recalled in such detail…it’s all rather unbelievable, and while Poirot’s genius is obvious, a few of his conclusions are also based on certain small coincidental words said by the witnesses – without which Poirot would have had a harder time coming to his own conclusions. I suppose, in hindsight, that if these testimonials had been questioned, re-questioned and reconfirmed by the court during trial, then they would be more easily remembered. I would have also skipped a the ‘written record’ of each testimonial as that makes a total of fifteen recounts of the same incident. Other than that, Five Little Pigs is a highly recommended read.