I spoke the other day about, whenever you think of two people you loathe and despise, there’s always one you loathe and despise _slightly_ less than the other, and that probably gives hope for the goodness of the human spirit.
But with Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie, it’s a very, very close-run thing.
I look through the Christmas TV guides and see John Malkovich is playing Poirot, in the same inexplicable way that gifted actors (Albert Finney, Kenneth Brannagh, Rowan Atkinson, to name but a few) have always chosen to play the (let’s face it) blandly pretentious and claustrophobically annoying characters created by that STUPID WOMAN.
I quite like Sherlock Holmes because there’s a bit of life in the character, y’know, with the pathological impatience and the heroin, but GOD ALMIGHTY do I hate that Arthur Conan Doyle paved the way for Agatha Christie, and in turn all ten million interchangeable episodes of Midsomer Murders, CSI, NCIS. Let’s make things quite clear, writers. Just setting up a labyrinthine web of plot-turns to be laboriously unwound by a Private Eye (‘dick’) DOESN’T MAKE A STORY. Take the denouement of any Agatha Christie story: forget the preceding two hours of Poirot wondering around narrowing his eyes like Pepe the Frog trying to fart: imagine the clever little conspiracy being explained by, say, a train announcer or a backbench Tory MP. Because that’s what I hear.
We need to let Agatha Christie become extinct. She’s an old writer. She’s a clichéd writer. Ever seen that Family Guy episode that’s an Agatha Christie parody? It’s terrible. Even _Family Guy_ is bland and characterless when it tries to do Agatha Christie, that’s the level of Satanic, all-consuming boredom we’re dealing with.
And Dickens always crawls out of his effing hole at Christmas, too, doesn’t he? Just when I’ve finally started to dig Ben Elton, the Upstart Crow Christmas Special is a Dickens pastiche. It was a good job I had Festive Whiskey in front of me.
And yet, and yet. God help me, I hate him less than Agatha Christie, despite the way he stole hours of my life during A-Level English. Despite the fact that he reveled in working class misfortune (whereas, if this had been any other country in the world, Oliver Twist and Tiny Tim would no more have wasted time eating gruel than organised some comrades to lynch Harry Secombe on Day One).
For one thing, actors seem to be wise to Dickens’ bad writing. Only Simon Callow seems to really rate him. What’s that thing about Charles Dickens once seeing a train crash and getting messed up? Y’know. I won’t send him to hell to get chased down a never-ending track by a Satanic Thomas the Tank Engine. That would be going too far. I’m not going to do that.
Whereas Agatha Christie? You’re afterlife is in the bag, love. You’re in a country house. You’re trying to solve a murder. Your own. The suspects are the tens of millions of writers, TV and filmmakers who would have done far more meaningful, entertaining work if your bland shh-etty nonsense wasn’t jamming up every channel. There’s a little detective there to help you, a little fat Belgian with a stupid face and mustache, but unfortunately, you can’t really concentrate on anything the C says because you keep getting distracted by the fact that
HE’S NOT A REAL BELGIAN BUT AN ENGLISH ACTOR WASTING HIS TALENT ON SHH.