Greetings and welcome to the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2020 – as virtually decided by the readers of The Real Chrisparkle Blog! Over the past four weeks we’ve chosen the twenty songs to go forward from the semi-finals to join the Big Five plus The Netherlands. So here are your final 26! The job is as simple as usual – listen to the songs, choose your favourite ten, and award them 12, 10, 8, 7, 6 etc votes in the time-honoured tradition.
Before the Coronavirus struck and ruined 2020 for us all, the home nation, the Netherlands, had drawn 23rd in the running order and will therefore keep that position in our version of the contest. As for the remainder of the order, it’s been handed over to Snowdrop the Psychic Bear to create the best possible show from the raw ingredients. Let’s see what kind of a mess he’s made of that.
So settle down, with the largest glass/bottle of wine you can lay your hands on, and we’ll start with song number one, which comes from Austria – Vincent Bueno, with Alive.
Song Two: Greece – Stefania, with Superg!rl (yes, that exclamation mark still annoys me, and that’s why I’ve put it in the Kiss of Death position. I mean Snowdrop. It annoys Snowdrop. Ahem).
Song Three: Belgium – Hooverphonic, with Please Release Me, let me go (I mean, Release Me.)
Song Four: Serbia – Hurricane, with Hasta la Vista (and we’ll never find out quite how badly they would have sung it live).
Song Five: Croatia – Damir Kedžo with Divlji Vjetre. (It means Wild Winds apparently).
Song Six: and it’s the first of the Big Five, Spain – with Universo by Blas Cantó.
Song Seven: Sweden – The Mamas (without the Papas) with Move.
Song Eight: Estonia – Uku Suviste with What Love Is (not a very elegant title, really.)
FIRST COMMERCIAL BREAK – so let’s pop over to the Green Room to see how everyone is doing.
Me: Hi Green Room! How are you all doing?
Green Room: Fine thanks.
END OF FIRST COMMERCIAL BREAK
Song Nine: at a disadvantage, because some people haven’t come back from popping on the kettle or going to the loo; it’s Ireland – Lesley Roy with Story of My Life (see comment about Serbia for vocal notes).
Song Ten: Albania – Arilena Ara with Fall from the Sky. Take an umbrella just in case.
Song Eleven: Another Big Five entry, France – with Tom Leeb and Mon Alliée (The Best In Me). (Come on, which is it – Mon Alliée? or The Best In Me? Make your mind up Tom).
Song Twelve: Norway – Ulrikke, with Attention. She has mine.
Song Thirteen: Israel – Eden Alene with Feker Libi. In lots of languages. Pick one and stick with it.
Song Fourteen: Malta – Destiny with All of my Love. Alas, it wasn’t Destiny’s Destiny.
Song Fifteen: that moment ever true-blood Brit waits for, the moment that the UK gets nul points because everybody hates us. James Newman with My Last Breath. (Other views are available.)
Song Sixteen: Germany – Ben Dolic, apparently using somebody else’s voice, with Violent Thing.
Song Seventeen: Bulgaria – Victoria, with the classier and more grammatically sustainable of this year’s two drunk songs, Tears Getting Sober.
SECOND COMMERCIAL BREAK – time to hit the Green Room again.
Me: I bet the excitement is sensational in the Green Room at the moment!
Green Room: Yes it is.
END OF SECOND COMMERCIAL BREAK.
Song Eighteen (with the same disadvantage as Ireland, see earlier): Iceland – this year’s viral sensation and costume adviser to HM the Queen, Daði og Gagnamagnið with Think About Things.
Song Nineteen: Switzerland – Gjon’s Tears with Répondez-moi (if you can focus on it through your crying eyes).
Song Twenty: Azerbaijan – Efendi with Cleopatra in a good spot in the running order because even today Oil Pays.
Song Twenty-one: Georgia – Tornike Kipiani with his drunken rant, Take me as I Am.
Song Twenty-two: Lithuania – The Roop are On Fire (with desire, getting higher).
Song Twenty-three: huge cheers for the home nation, The Netherlands – Jeangu Macrooy with Grow.
Song Twenty-four: three to go, you can do this; Denmark – Ben and Tan with Yes (I mean YES).
Song Twenty-five: the end is in sight, for the last of the Big Five – Italy, with Diodato and Fai Rumore.
Song Twenty-six: traditionally no one listens to this one as they’re working out which is their favourite; Russia – Little Big with Uno.
So there you have it. The twenty-six songs for you to choose from. If you wish to have a reprise of them all – get a life. Or, alternatively, simply play them as often as you like, to the annoyance of the family, the neighbours, the dog and everyone with whom you come into contact (which should be NO ONE, OK??) Then award your points by emailing them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org (or you can simply DM me if we’re pals). You have until midnight UK time on Sunday 3rd May to accomplish this happy task. Then come back here shortly afterwards for the grand reveal! Merci, et au revoir.
Greetings gentle reader and welcome to yet another interview with M. R. Carey – because he’s written yet another book! Hello Mike!
M R Carey: Hi Chris. Thanks for the invite.
Real Chrisparkle: My pleasure! Your new book came out a few days ago – and it’s The Book of Koli – the first of a trilogy I believe. Would you like to tell us a little bit of what the book’s about (without giving any games away, of course)!
MRC: Sure! This is me going back into post-apocalyptic territory. The story is set a few centuries from now. Our civilisation has fallen apart for numerous reasons. There was resource depletion, which caused resource wars. Biodiversity went through the floor. The climate broke down, despite attempt to throw science at the problem – and the solutions that were tried mostly made things worse. Basically there’s been a massive thinning out of the human population. The survivors live in small, isolated communities – so small that they’re probably not even genetically viable in the longer term. The level of technology has gone back to something close to a medieval level – except for a few precious pieces of tech salvaged from the old times. The people who wield this tech are known as Ramparts, and the protagonist of the book, Koli Woodsmith, desperately wants to become one. But it’s very much a case of “be careful what you wish for…”
RC: I can say from my personal knowledge that it’s a great book and you set up a very exciting series of adventures for our hero Koli to endure! Can I first ask, why did you choose to set the story in the Calder Valley – and Mythen Rood, that’s Mytholmroyd, is it not? Do you have some association with that area?
MRC: Not really, no – although I went there last year as guest author on an Arvon writing course at Lumb Bank. I wanted somewhere that was a long way from London, for reasons that become clear as the story goes on, and being a Northerner I turned my eyes northwards rather than, say, to the south-west. I had some fun with the place names, and I took a few liberties with geography. You have to assume that some of the settlements we hear about are a little way removed from their present-day equivalents. Otherwise the distances don’t work. But the main thing I wanted was a real and defined area in England that has changed a lot but still has some recognisable landmarks or features.
RC: Thanks for clearing that up! This is (at least!) the second time that you’ve set novels in a post-apocalyptic world. What is it about such a world that you find so fruitful and fascinating?
MRC: There are lots of reasons, but I think most of all I like post-apocalyptic worlds because they present simply. There are a lot of things we think are fundamental that are really accidents – they come down to social codes and social roles, rather than to anything intrinsic in human nature. In a post-apocalyptic novel you can strip that stuff away and get back to basics – while at the same time holding up the things that only seemed to be basics to a kind of indirect scrutiny.
RC: That’s very interesting – it’s almost like it allows us to come closer to the truth of what life is all about. It’s perhaps strange and slightly frightening that the book has been published in what might be a pre-apocalyptic time for all of us, with the Covid-19 running riot around the world! Staying at home means we have to strip the unnecessary stuff away too. Might there be accidental parallels between your fictional universe and our current situation?
MRC: Yeah, I’m very much afraid there are! The second book actually has a plague narrative as a major strand. While Koli is off on his journeys, Mythen Rood succumbs to an epidemic – and it falls to Spinner, the girl he thought he loved, to try to figure out how to combat it. Obviously there’s no question of a vaccine in a world that has no real concept of science. It’s more a question of trying to find out what the vectors of transmission are so they can close them down.
I’d finished writing those sequences by the time lockdown started – actually I sent them in last July – but they were still very much in my head when Covid-19 went from something distant and disturbing to something that was right at the door and threatening to knock it down. There’s a passage in that second book where Spinner reflects on how different it is to live through a catastrophe, as opposed to hearing stories about it. Stories can prepare you for the worst, up to a point, but when you’re catapulted into the actual experience, the first thing that happens is that you change from the business-as-usual version of you to the crisis version. And you don’t necessarily know in advance what that’s going to look like.
RC: Perhaps it gives us a greater insight into the nature of catastrophe – as you say, nothing can really prepare us for what lies ahead. I guess we’ll have to wait until the second book to find out! We’ve spoken of post-apocalyptic and pre-apocalyptic situations; I wonder, can you imagine writing a book that dealt with the actual apocalypse itself? After all, if there were to be a post-apocalyptic world afterwards, there’d have to be some survivors, so it could be quite a positive/optimistic story! Maybe a bit like The Sound of Music, but where the von Trapps survive to establish a new world order!
MRC: That’s an appealing image. If I’d ever written a third book set in the world of The Girl With All the Gifts, it would have been something along those lines – jumping back in time another decade to the time of the Breakdown and exploring how the arrival of Cordyceps impacted the world. One thing that Covid-19 has painfully exposed is how fragile a lot of social structures are, and how threadbare our safety nets have become. Capitalism is predicated on never-ending growth, so we’ve created a society that’s a bit like a shark. If it stops moving, it’s in danger of dying. It would be fascinating – and terrifying – to look at that process in action. I mean, in a work of fiction. I have to say, I’m not enjoying living through it.
RC: And to be fair, the public don’t need to be spooked more than they already are. Now is probably a time for horsies and bunnies! But it is frightening – and at the same time strangely intriguing – to see the tenets of society shrivel up. Fortunately, there’s always hope at the bottom of Pandora’s Box! So, going back to the beginning of The Book of Koli; you create a world that we barely recognise, but we can see there are long established rituals and patterns of behaviour that we don’t understand at all at first and then gradually get some sense of what it’s all about. It’s very much a time-travel experience for the reader. That, plus the unusual language, can be a bit of a barrier at first. Were you aware that you were making life potentially tricky for some of your readers?
MRC: I was, yeah. I can vividly remember reading Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker, and bouncing off that strange future English. I was doing something less radical, but I knew it would take a bit of grappling with for some readers. It was just that Koli’s voice was at the centre of everything, for me, in the same way Melanie’s voice was in GIRL. Even more so, in fact, because Koli is the narrator. I was trying – in my small way – to do something a little bit similar to what Mark Twain did in Huckleberry Finn. I wanted to tell a story from the point of view of someone who is barely literate and has to struggle to communicate with us. It would have felt like cheating if Koli had spoken in standard English – and I think it would have taken something away from the book. A layer of meaning, or a bit of light and shadow.
Speaking to the gradualness – the way the world reveals itself slowly and piecemeal – that’s a side effect of the first person perspective. The things that Koli tells us are the things that matter to him, which means they’ve got to be visible to him. It’s only when Ursala comes into the story that we get the luxury of a different take. That’s when we start to see over Koli’s shoulder and connect his world to ours. I love that kind of narrative bait and switch – both as a reader and as a writer.
RC: Indeed, the connection between those two characters is incredibly positive – it put me in mind of the old Kung Fu programme – with Ursala as a figure of wisdom, and Koli as the little grasshopper learning his way! Koli may be barely literate but he’s still superbly eloquent. How did you set about constructing his use of language? (which for me was a constant source of delight in the book!)
MRC: Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Koli’s voice was the thing that came first, in fact – and it existed before I started to write the novel. As with The Girl with All the Gifts, there was a short story that came first. The narrator at that story is called Tari, and he lives in an actual medieval village rather than in a quasi-medieval future, but he’s got a lot of Koli’s characteristics and I gave him the same unlettered, earnest voice. A lot of it is the logical but wrong application of rules. Koli treats most verbs as if they had regular endings. He’s also really bad at modals, especially “have”. I’ve spoken to a few people who said they cringed whenever they hit a “should of” or “would of”. All I can say is so did Microsoft Word. I fought a long, bitter fight against the spellchecker, which turned itself back on whenever I booted up and did its best to thwart me. But yeah, I’m glad you said you found Koli eloquent in spite of all his errors. I felt like there was a kind of hacked-about, jury-rigged poetry to his language. I wanted readers to engage with him, and to feel comfortable with his voice after that first bumpy acclimatisation.
RC: I think – (I could be wrong) that all Koli’s “new” nouns are created from the “add two existing words together to make a new word” device; words like “summer-dance”, “pair-pledge” “stop-mix” “brown-skin”, and so on. I also love the use of “tumble” for sex! And why don’t we say “onliest”? It makes much more sense than “only”!
MRC: Exactly! Yeah, I was very pleased with “tumble”. There’s a lot of information in that word. It suggests both a guilt-free attitude to sex and an absence of sexist asymmetries. It takes two to tumble. There’s one point where Jemiu, Koli’s mother, tells him to take his mind off Spinner and look for love elsewhere. It’s one of the few places in the book where the F word appears. She tells him that getting married is very different from “a fuck thrown in the bushes at Summer-dance” – and the harshness was deliberate.
RC: Yes! I remember that phrase – it certainly stands out! Koli is a great creation. When you said earlier, that at the start of the book we just hear the things that matter to him – that made me realise that it makes our relationship with him very intimate. We get a very clear picture of what’s going on inside his head. He’s honest with himself, so he’s honest with us. We can trust him. How would you describe him?
MRC: I think he’s the nicest protagonist I’ve ever written. He messes up badly at times, and he’s certainly capable of being selfish and thoughtless, but he never lets himself off the hook for those things. He feels his mistakes and does his best to atone for them, and most of the time he’s really trying to do the right thing. He looks out for his friends – and at times even for his enemies. Without going into spoiler territory, I think Koli’s fight with Mardew is a touchstone for his character. He has every reason to hate Mardew and very little reason to extend him any compassion or concern, but he can’t switch off those things. They’re in his nature. One of Monono’s pet names for him is “dopey boy”, but I think he’s got a kind of emotional intelligence that’s very bit as important as the other kind.
RC: Absolutely! He’s incredibly likeable, but flawed – he has a sense of ambition that leads to an element of ruthlessness, but, deep down, that’s not really him at all. How do you see Koli in the classic “what would he be like down the pub” situation? Full of stories and bonhomie, I would imagine. And capable of downing a few lager-pints!
MRC: He wouldn’t have any barriers or defences. He’d throw himself into everything that was going on, probably try to sing a song or tell a joke and get lost in the middle, and he’d almost certainly get sentimental and tell you he loved the bones of you about three pints in. Whereas it takes me at least four, as you know.
RC: Basically, Koli is you, hiding in plain sight, isn’t he?! Mentioning “dopey boy”… Monono is another fascinating character. When she calls him that it says easily as much about her as it does him. In one respect, Monono is incredibly powerful, and in another, bizarrely powerless. She’s the voice trapped in the machine, a blast from the past; like the out of control “oo-oo” voices on Video Killed the Radio Star, or Hello this is Joanie’s voice carrying on long after she’s no longer here. How did you come to create her? What influenced how she turned out?
MRC: You’re way too kind, Chris! I think I based Koli on my kids rather than on me. I was talking about emotional intelligence earlier. It’s a thing I’ve struggled with all my life. My temper, my hypochondria, my inability to let anything lie… they’ve always been there, and they’ve always been problematic. My kids don’t seem to have those demons.
With Monono, as with Koli, I started with the voice – in this case, a teasing and funny, savvy and mischievous voice – and let the character accrete around it. And weirdly, the backstory of her actual pre-apocalypse life was the last thing to arrive, which made it effortless. By that time I had a really vivid sense of her. There’s a scene in the second book where (by strange means that I won’t reveal) she gets to take Koli for a walk around Tokyo. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the trilogy, not least because it’s actually her first time there as well as his. She’s NOT that dead girl, she’s something built on that template, and she knows it.
I gave her a lot of my own hang-ups about biodiversity, and I also used her narrative to provide some more clues as to how our world gave birth to Koli’s. But I needed her to feel real as a person too – especially since, when we first meet her, she really isn’t one. The things she gets wrong, like the repeated dialogue and getting Koli’s name wrong, are meant to be poignant as well as funny. She’s been intentionally hobbled – a vital personality reduced to an interface – and I wanted the reader to feel a kind of horror and pity at that.
RC: She’s definitely an all-round personality, and innately programmed to help, in whatever manner that might mean. I’m looking forward to the Tokyo walk! And yes, there is a sense of pity at what is essentially her entrapment. On another note… without giving away any spoilers, Koli is a wannabe Rampart but actually the Ramparts aren’t as heroic as they’re cracked up to be. I was reminded of Groucho Marx’s famous line that you wouldn’t want to be a member of a club who’d have you! The Rampart world is not a great endorsement of ambition and power. What do you think of these attitudes and characteristics – is ambition for power a good thing?
MRC: No, it really isn’t. I tend to think that a desire to take power should disqualify people from ever having it. In every workplace I’ve ever known, the people who were most successful were – almost without exception – people who put self-promotion and advancement before actually doing their jobs. Organisations depend for their survival on an army of people who never rise through the ranks because they’re too busy working.
The Vennastins are a dodgy bunch, without a doubt. They’re not beyond the pale, though – or at least not all of them are. There are nuances. Fer is like a female Boris Johnson, wedded to her lies and willing to do anything to keep them from coming out. Mardew is basically a thug. But Catrin isn’t a bad leader, and she’s sometimes able to rein in her sister’s worst impulses. And there’s more to Perliu than meets the eye. We see a lot more of all of them in the second and third books, and the whole question of Rampart power – and the possible alternatives – comes more and more to the fore.
RC: I guess very few people – even those who seek power for their own pleasure – are evil through and through, so it will be very interesting to see how those characters and Rampartism in general develop! There’s also not-very-veiled criticism of institutionalised religion, with the unsettling scenes with Senlas and his followers. Even in a post-apocalyptic age religion survives. Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence came into my head when I was thinking about both him, and the value of tech in this new world: And the people bowed and prayed to the neon God they’d made. Is Tech the new God?
MRC: Tech has taken on a kind of sanctity, for sure. There are strictures on its use, taboos about its handling, and so on. But God is always God, I guess. In one form or another, religion seems to be a fixture in every human society. What I tried to do in the Koli books is to show how malleable belief is. The rudiments of Christianity are still around in Koli’s world, but there’s another messianic figure – Dandrake – who seems to have arisen from within Christianity and then broken away from it, much as Christianity broke away from Judaism. We learn a fair bit more about Dandrake, both as a religious figurehead and as a historical figure, and we’re able to judge the distance between the two. Senlas just takes the same logic to an even more rabid and intemperate conclusion. Koli doesn’t have any time for any of this stuff, but we’ll meet some other believers – and belief systems – in book two. Gods are never in short supply, one way and another…
RC: It’s becoming clear that you have so much to say through the character of Koli and his adventures that there’s no way you could have fitted it all into one book. No wonder it’s a trilogy! You’re a fan of the trilogy structure I believe – I’m thinking Mervyn Peake here for example. I wondered whether the rest of the trilogy would follow on instantly from the end of this book, or whether we’d see Koli at three stages of his life?
MRC: I think there’s a lot of power in the extended series format. I love the Gormenghast trilogy, as you say – and Earthsea, and The Book of the New Sun, and Zelazny’s Amber novels. The crucial thing is that you’ve got to have an end point in mind and you’ve got to make sure the individual novels carry their weight as parts of the whole. Koli’s story felt like a big, sprawly, epic thing that would benefit from a big canvas. Then as I incorporated other stories – Monono’s, Cup’s, Spinner’s – It felt like I could do something with point of view that would (I hope) be unexpected and effective. The second and third books follow straight on from the first in terms of time, but they don’t only follow Koli. We keep one eye on Mythen Rood, and the characters we left behind there.
RC: A perfect way to end this interview but keep us in suspense for the rest of the trilogy! When are the final two parts to be published?
MRC: Book two is out in September, and book three in April of next year. They open outwards from book one, showing us a lot more of Koli’s world, and putting him on a collision course with the distant past that could determine the shape of the future.
RC: So I’m guessing not much in the way of horsies and bunnies?
MRC: Hahaha! There are definitely comedic moments. And touching moments. I don’t write grimdark… 😀
RC: Excellent! And is there life after Koli? What’s your next project, if you have one?
MRC: I’m just starting to noodle with a new idea. It will be horror-inflected, and it will have ghosts in it. And a bit of T. S. Eliot. That’s about as far as I’ve got.
RC: Sounds like my cup of tea! Best of luck with it! And thanks again for taking the time to have this interview. Been great chatting as always!
MRC: My pleasure, Chris. I’ve enjoyed it too. Cheers!
In which Miss Marple visits her old friend Carrie-Louise at Stonygates, the old mansion she shares with her husband Lewis Serrocold, and which is used as an educational institution attempting to shape up delinquent youths and prepare them for an honest life in the world outside. Carrie-Louise’s sister Ruth knows that something is wrong at Stonygates, but couldn’t put her finger on what. Will Miss Marple see through the trick of mirrors and identify who’s responsible for the death of a family visitor? Of course she will! As usual, if you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry, I promise not to reveal whodunit!
The book is dedicated simply “To Mathew Prichard”, Agatha Christie’s only grandson. His son James is the current CEO of Agatha Christie Ltd. They Do it with Mirrors was first published in the US in a condensed version in the April 1952 edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine, under the title Murder with Mirrors. It was first published in the UK in six abridged instalments in John Bull magazine between April and May 1952. The full book was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company later in 1952, still with the title Murder with Mirrors and in the UK by Collins Crime Club, as They Do it with Mirrors on 17th November 1952.
There are elements of this story in the Margaret Rutherford Miss Marple film Murder Ahoy, where an assembly of criminally inclined young men are all housed together but this time on board a ship, the Battledore. Apart from that, nothing remotely connects this book with the film, and you can safely enjoy one without spoiling the surprise for the other! Despite having a few begrudging reviews at the time, I think this book is a terrific read. Once Miss Marple has arrived at Stonygates, the events of the book take place over a period of four days, which adds urgency and tension to the storytelling. The title already reveals that there is some sleight of hand at work that obfuscates the murder – but once Miss Marple gets clarity on how the whole thing was done, identifying the guilty party is easy-peasy. The reader doesn’t really get the chance to reflect and imagine what the trick with mirrors might be until presented with a final solution that resolves all the relevant points of the story. Once you’ve appreciated it, it’s very pleasing in its straightforwardness. If you’re looking out for them, you can this book to your collection of “Christie Staged Murder Scenes” – rather like that in A Murder is Announced, published only two years earlier.
I believe this is the first time that Miss Marple is involved in a case right from the very start. Usually she is brought in by the police after a crime has been committed in order to help them out with her village-life analogies. In They Do it with Mirrors, she’s a part of the very first conversation, with Ruth van Rydock, listening to the latter’s concerns about her sister Carrie-Louise. We accompany her on her trip to Stonygates, and from then on, she’s hardly ever out of the reader’s sight. Interesting, perhaps, then that we don’t learn that much more about her, although she does come up with one fascinating observation about life; that, in comparison with British perceptions of American lifestyles, “we are so very fond of failures”. That ought to give us a greater insight into the nature of crime, but I don’t think it particularly helps us with this book.
We do get to meet Inspector Curry in this book; he hadn’t heard of Miss Marple’s expertise before meeting her, which must make him unusual in the Christie police files. Make the most of him, because he doesn’t return in any later Christie books. Curry is a calmly able and diligent policeman; he “had a pleasant voice and manner. He looked quiet and serious and just a little apologetic. Some people made the mistake of under-rating him. Actually he was as competent in his way as Miss Bellever was in hers. But he preferred not to make a parade of the fact.” He’s traditional and modest; sensitive to the perceptions and expectations of his elderly witness, and calls Miss Marple Ma’am; “the old ones like ma’am, he thought. To them, police officers were definitely of the lower classes and should show respect to their betters.”
He’s also a product of his upbringing, perhaps not challenging the views of earlier generations as much as an intelligent man should. “”Russians” to Inspector Curry were what “Bony” had been in the early day of the nineteenth century, and what “the Huns” had been in the early twentieth century. Anything to do with Russia was bad in Inspector Curry’s opinion.” Curry and Marple work well together, with a strong sense of mutual trust and respect, and a liking for not jumping to conclusions. Neither of them has a modern outlook on the issue of mental health, and when Miss Marple witnesses Edgar Lawson’s apparent weaknesses – believing his father to be a famous statesman or hero like Churchill or Montgomery – she’s surprisingly dismissive and lacking in empathy.
Christie’s structure for the book is simple; the first few expository days are quickly run through, and then the meat of the book comes with Curry’s detailed examination of all the suspects’ stories and alibis. The untitled chapters are split into smaller sections, simply to provide a visual pause for breath between individual conversations and investigations. I did, however, find it helpful to write out my own family-tree for Carrie-Louise and all her relatives, as it’s a complicated family and it was useful to refer to something occasionally. There is a plan of part of the downstairs of Stonygates House; there’s no particular need to look at it until just before the denouement, when its obvious relevance becomes unavoidable. The characterisations are standard, erring on the side of underdrawn; any interesting personality traits in the suspects are sacrificed for an eager telling of the investigations and a drive towards discovering the guilty party.
As usual, there are a few references to check out, starting with the locations. The book starts with a visit by Mrs Van Rydock to London, so we get references to the Savoy, Claridge’s, the Berkeley and the Dorchester, all of which we know to be real. When Miss Marple gets a train to Market Kindle, that’s the location for the rest of the story; there’s no such place, and Christie deliberately gives us no clues as to the direction that Miss Marple has travelled from St Mary Mead. The only other location mentioned in the book is San Severiano; Pippa marries the Italian, Guido, the Marchese di San Severiano, but the only San Severiano that I can discover in the world is part of Cadiz, in Spain, so I can only presume this too is a fictitious location.
There are few other interesting references that can all be quickly and easily dealt with. When we first meet Mrs van Rydock, she’s trying on a Lanvanelli creation. Whoever this gifted dress designer is, we’ll never know as they’re a Christie creation too. Gina’s affectionate name for Carrie-Louise is Grandam, which is a very archaic term for a grandmother. Lewis Serrocold has placed one of his ex-con young men in a job with the Wiltshire and Somerset Bank. Whilst we don’t recognise that name today, the Somerset and Wiltshire Bank used to exist and was swallowed up by Lloyds Bank at some point before the mid-1970s – I can’t find anything more concrete on that at the moment.
“Recover hope all ye who enter here” is the inscribed welcome at the entrance to Stonygates. It’s a play on the words of Dante, in the Divine Comedy, who supposed the gates to Hell were inscribed “Abandon hope all ye who enter here”. Miss Marple pretends to be distracted by the sight of siskins in the garden; these are members of the Finch family, similar to a goldfinch but smaller. Gulbrandsen apparently had a collection of Thorwaldsen’s statuary. Bertel Thorvaldsen (1770 – 1844) was a Danish sculptor of international repute. And at various stages in the book, Edgar Lawson declares that his father is Winston Churchill or Viscount Montgomery – neither of whom need any clarification from me.
Regular readers will know that I like to consider any significant sums of money in Christie’s books and work out what their value would be today, just to get a feel of the range of sums that we’re looking at. There’s only one sum mentioned in this book – that of £10,000, which is how much Carrie-Louise is going to leave Miss Bellever in her will. £10,000 in 1952 is worth approximately £200,000 today, which is a tidy sum and no mistake.
Now it’s time for my usual at-a-glance summary, for They Do it With Mirrors:
Publication Details: 1952. My copy is a Fontana paperback, eleventh impression, dated November 1975, with a price of 50p on the back cover. The cover illustration by Tom Adams shows a revolver on top of a piece of sheet music, then reflected in several mirrors at adjacent angles. In the distance are some stylised garden scenes. It’s a great design that’s totally appropriate for the book without giving too much away.
How many pages until the first death: 66. The death comes as a complete surprise and is superbly stages in terms of the structure of the book.
Funny lines out of context: two, that both rely on the other meaning of one of Christie’s favourite words.
When Gina tells Miss Marple how she gets on with the delinquent inmates: “It’s the thugs I like best […] I don’t fancy the queers so much.”
And when she’s asked by Inspector Curry who she thinks might have committed the murder: “one of the queers did it, I should think.”
This is perhaps the one area where this book falls down a little, in that there are no truly stand-out characters. That’s why it was helpful to write out my own family-tree for Carrie-Louise, because it was difficult at times to remember which person was which.
Christie the Poison expert:
Given that there are no murders in this book that are caused by poison, it’s perhaps surprising that the book allows Christie to show off quite a lot of her knowledge. There’s some talk of the case of Katherine Elsworth, whose husband died of arsenic, which she obtained by soaking flypapers (a very old-fashioned way of dealing with flies as it seems today). That young scamp Ernie refers to “strickline” and “Prussian Acid” in conversation with Gina; he means Strychnine, and Prussic Acid, today better known as cyanide. The chocolates sent to Carrie-Louise are laced with aconitine, a poison derived from the monkshood plant; Alex Restarick jokes that he prefers curare, famously the poison that you’re meant to dip your arrow in, in Central and South America.
Class/social issues of the time:
There are far fewer of the usual class/social references in this book than you would normally expect to find in a Christie novel. Primarily any references are geared towards the education system, which is not to be unexpected, given that Stonygates is an institution set up to educate young criminals out of a life of crime. Ruth van Rydock sighs to Miss Marple when she says “there are fashions in philanthropy. In Gulbrandsen’s time it was education. Before that it was soup kitchens […] feeding the body gave way to feeding the mind. Everyone went mad on educating the lower classes […] He was more and more convinced that juvenile delinquents were not subnormal – that they had excellent brains and abilities and only needed right direction.” Primarily Mrs van Rydock uses the weapon of class to try to prevent education being offered to those who don’t deserve it: “everyone expects education as a matter of right – and doesn’t think much of it when they get it!”
The redemption of criminals is an age-old theme but one gets the sense that Stonygates is an institution that’s ahead of its time, with old guard onlookers like Miss Marple and Mrs van Rydock having very little respect for its work. A criticism of the book at the time was that Christie wasn’t comfortable with the set-up she had created in this book; I’m not sure I completely agree, but it’s interesting to see the alternative viewpoints offered, with the specialists like Dr Maverick, being referred to as “half-baked sentimentalists” (Miss Bellever’s opinion.)
There’s normally a spot of xenophobia in a Christie book; here it’s reserved for criticism of the character of Wally Hudd, Gina’s American husband. He’s definitely a fish-out-of-water, uncomfortable in the environment; a practical man alone in a household of intelligent brains, and a classic outsider. But the level of prejudicial language used against Wally is minimal in comparison with that used against European or (heavens above) African foreigners in Christie’s other books. Regrettably, this book does feature one use of the N word; in its slight defence, it’s used in the old “woodpile” phrase, an objectionable use of language that a very unpleasant ex-boss of mine was still using in the 1990s.
One surprise moment, highlighting something I would have thought was very old-fashioned but maybe was still common at the time of writing: Inspector Curry is sarcastically critical of Gina’s attire after the murder. “I see you’re not wearing mourning, Mrs Hudd?” The Victorian age was the height of the mourning-wear tradition in Britain, although I know from my own family experience that people chose to wear black for a good few months after bereavement as late as the 1970s.
Classic denouement: Sadly not. The identity of the murderer is revealed in a private conversation between Inspector Curry and Miss Marple, and then we fast-forward to an explanatory aftermath. Still, the modus operandi of the crime is fascinating enough to still make this an exciting end to the book.
Happy ending? Moderately so, in that a relationship that we felt was on the rocks is clearly firmly back on track. Again, Christie could have made more of the emotional fallout of the revelation of the murderer, but didn’t develop the characters enough to make this work.
Did the story ring true? It just about survives a spot of critical thought. “They do it with mirrors” suggests the whole thing is a magic trick, and that’s about the level of credibility that it deserves; in other words, it looks true and it feels true, but we know deep down it can’t be true!
Overall satisfaction rating: Despite its faults – the lapses in characterisation, and a lack of classic denouement, it’s an incredibly entertaining read and a very intriguing crime. So I’m going to upgrade it to a 9/10.
Thanks for reading my blog of They Do it with Mirrors and if you’ve read it too, I’d love to know what you think. Please just add a comment in the space below. Next up in the Agatha Christie Challenge is After the Funeral, and it’s back to the world of Hercule Poirot. I can’t remember much about this book, so I’m looking forward to rediscovering it. As usual, I’ll blog my thoughts about it in a few weeks’ time. In the meantime, please read it too then we can compare notes! Happy sleuthing!
Greetings once again and welcome to the written confirmation of the recording of the Grand Opening of the Envelopes Ceremony of the second Semi Final – you can catch the live action on my Facebook page (should you so desire).
This week 26 of us voted and Snowdrop from the European Bear Union scrutinised intently the opening of the envelopes to ensure that everything was above board. So let’s waste no more time; here goes, and this is the order in which the ten songs were chosen:
So just to confirm, that means:And:As official overseer of the ceremony, Snowdrop insisted – quite dogmatically, actually – that the votes awarded to the songs that failed to make the grade should be made public. His wish is my command:
In 18th position with 26 points from 7 voters – POLAND
In 17th position with 38 points from 8 voters – PORTUGAL
In 16th position with 44 points from 14 voters – MOLDOVA
In 15th position with 49 points from 11 voters (including one dix points) – CZECH REPUBLIC
In 14th position also with 49 points from 8 voters (but with three dix points) – ARMENIA
In 13th position with 53 points from 10 voters (including one douze points) – LATVIA
In 12th position with 55 points from 17 voters – SAN MARINO
And just missing out…
In 11th position also with 55 points from 12 voters (but with one douze points) – FINLAND
I can reveal that the country in 10th position received 63 points (and with no douze points) so it was another quite close finish.
All that remains is for me to thank you for voting in this semi final and there’ll be a vote for the Grand Final next week, which I’m sure you’re completely thrilled about. So keep voting!
Welcome back to the second part of our home-grown Eurovision Song Contest for 2020. In the absence of any Rotterdam-action, we thought, hey why not just do the show right here in the barn? Last week 25 of you (merci bien) voted on the songs in the first semi-final and this week it’s time to present the songs in the second semi-final. All of course under the vigilant eye of Snowdrop the Psychic Bear who no doubt will be a pain in the backside once more.
As noted for the first semi, the order of performance was never fully agreed before International Lockdown, just the songs that are to be aired in the first half or the second half of the show, so it’s up to Snowdrop to employ his psychic powers to decide the running order.
Snowdrop has decreed that the honour of opening the show goes to Natalia Gordienko for Moldova with her song, Prison.
Attracted by the title, Freaky, Snowdrop’s next choice is Senhit, for San Marino.
Snowdrop is rubbing his temples again, this never ends well. Next up is Alicja, with Empires, for Poland.
Estonia next, with Uku Suviste and What Love Is.
Snowdrop’s not happy. He says he’s still waiting for a decent song. I couldn’t possibly comment. Next up is Greece, with Stefania and Superg!rl (yes, that exclamation mark is particularly annoying.)
Snowdrop’s next selection is the Czech Republic. Wasn’t there a better arrangement of this earlier? he asks me. I say, yes, but it’s not for you to take sides. Here’s Benny Cristo with Kemama.
Snowdrop just popped out to do his shopping (it is allowable, even under lockdown), and it’s all frozen food. That can only mean one thing. Next up is Iceland, with Think About Things by Daði og Gagnamagnið.
Two songs to go before the break, and the first is Hurricane for Serbia, with their song Hasta la Vista. Yes, Snowdrop, there are two other Eurovision songs with that title. Proper little know-it-all, that bear.
Rounding off the first half, it’s Alive for Austria, sung by Bruno Mars. I mean, Vincent Bueno. So easy to get the two mixed up.
So now it’s time for my traditional attempt to blag my way into the Green Room with a fake London Eurovision Party VIP pass (you never know, it could work) to have a quick word with some of this year’s contestants.
So, Senhit, welcome back to Eurovision after a gap of nine years. How does it feel to be back in the bubble?
I see, it’s going to be like that again, is it? Alicja, this is odd, it looks as though you’ve brought a stack of movie magazines into the Green Room with you… what are they?
Jeez I had to ask. Uku Suviste, let’s test you on your Eurovision General Knowledge. What are the last four words of the chorus to Vikki Watson’s 1985 entry for the UK?
Uku Suviste: That’s….WHAT LOVE IS?Correct!
Enough frivolity. Now it’s back to the serious question of selecting our ten finalists from the eighteen in this year’s second semi-final. Over to you, Snowdrop; and we’re starting the second half with one of the favourites, it’s Victoria, with Tears Getting Sober, for Bulgaria.
Snowdrop’s now getting ready for his sauna, which must mean it’s time for Finland, and Aksel with Looking Back.
A sauna always makes Snowdrop emotional – I’m presuming that’s the reason he’s getting his hanky out. Clearly in preparation for Gjon’s Tears for Switzerland and Répondez-moi.
I’m getting tired of this bear’s dramatics. Now he’s recreating the story of Icarus and Daedalus. I guess that must mean it’s time for Albania, and Fall from the Sky by Arilena Ara.
He’s just opened a bottle of ten-year-old tawny, so I forgive him – provided he shares it. Time for Portugal, clearly, and Medo de Sentir, by Elisa. Apologies for the fact this isn’t the official video, for some reason WordPress is allergic to that link.
Oh, For Heaven’s Sake. Now he’s drunk. Do you want me to talk like an Englishman, he just asked, belligerently. No, Snowdrop, I don’t want you to talk at all. Ah, I see, he’s now chosen Georgia, and Take me as I am, by Tornike Kipiani.
It’s a bit embarrassing when he gets like this because it brings out his BDSM side. He’s now asking me to put the chains on him, which I’m hoping is the code for Armenia’s song by Athena Manoukian.
He really has drunk way too much. In fact, he’s collapsed in the corner. I supposed I’d better go and find out if he’s still breathing, which coincidentally is the title of the next song by Samanta Tina for Latvia.
One song left, and whilst you listen to Denmark’s entry, YES (in emphatic capitals) by Ben and Tan, I’m going to ring 111 to see what they recommend I do about this bloody bear.
And there you have it. All you now have to do is make your top ten selection from these songs and send me your decision, in the traditional 12 points to your favourite, 10 points to the second, 8 points to the third and so on. If you can, email me at email@example.com – or send me a DM on Facebook. Two super-keen voters on the first semi-final also sent me their votes for this selection, so they have already been added to the master spreadsheet. If you enjoyed voting last time, please feel free to give this lot your consideration. And if you didn’t vote last time, then rise like a phoenix, recognise to your civic duty and vote this time. You’ve got until midnight (UK time) on Sunday April 19th to finally face your Waterloo.
So, with the excitement at fever pitch, I recorded the grand Opening of the Envelopes Ceremony for the first Semi Final, to confirm the ten songs going through to the final. And could I upload it to WordPress? Could I buffalo. Actually, that’s not fair; I could upload it – but it played audio only, not the visual. Not the effect I was trying to achieve. WordPress help chat were very helpful and full of suggestions; but in the end they didn’t understand why it wasn’t working either. Sigh. I have managed to upload it to Facebook though, so you can enjoy the true “as live” experience there.
As for here, we return to the written word to reveal the ten songs that you have chosen in your thousands, I mean hundreds, I mean 25 of us, drawn by my own fair hand at random from a bowl of envelopes, all the while being scrutinised by the official overseer of the EBU, that’s the European Bear Union, Snowdrop.
This is the order in which the ten songs were chosen:
So just to confirm, that means:
As official overseer of the ceremony, Snowdrop insisted that the votes awarded to the songs that failed to make the grade should be made public. His wish is my command:
In 17th position with 8 points from 3 voters – BELARUS
In 16th position with 27 points from 5 voters (including one douze points) – SLOVENIA
In 15th position with 37 points from 12 voters – AUSTRALIA
In 14th position with 46 points from 10 voters (including one douze points) – UKRAINE
In 13th position with 50 points from 10 voters (including one douze points) – ROMANIA
In 12th position with 55 points from 14 voters – NORTH MACEDONIA
And just missing out…
In 11th position with 58 points from 10 voters (including one douze points) – CYPRUS
I can reveal that the country in 10th position received 62 points (with no douze points) so it was quite a close finish.
All that remains is for me to thank you for voting in this semi final and there’ll be a vote for the second semi final next week, Snowdrop permitting!