“You don’t read a book, you re-read it.” Vladimir Nabokov
Swigatha is short for ‘Swigatha Whiskey’. During our seaside holidays as children my siblings and I used to devour second-hand detective fiction paperbacks, most of them written by Agatha Christie. My brother Bill used to refer to the author as Swigatha Whiskey. He was like that.
The name stuck, and a swigatha is thus any detective story written by Agatha (Swigatha) Christie (Whiskey). More specifically, it is one that comes in a second-hand paperback version from around the 1960s.
Originally, Swigatha was going to be a simple blog about re-reading the work of Agatha Christie, whose stories had I first read when I was 11. Once I started re-reading her, however, I realised what an enormous influence they (and she) had exerted, far beyond the actual words themselves, so I began to peer a bit closer into them.
These simple stories have made Christie a global phenomenon for most of the last 100 years. What is not always appreciated about these stories, especially by those that encounter them over the last few decades via TV, radio or cinema, is the flow of the narrative, the ability to sketch a character in less than ten words and the humour within them. Agatha Christie’s abilities as a writer are often derided (by herself, for one) but as a story-teller there are few that can match her.
It was not just the stories, some of which are magnificent, but also the actual books: the front covers, the blurb on the back, the pages, the print and the also available … pages at the back. I do not think I would have reacted to these books in quite the same way when re-reading them if they had been more modern editions.
Researching other people’s first experiences of Agatha Christie, especially those following fan pages on Facebook, I have found that 11 is about the median age when most started reading her. It is noticeable the fondness and pride people have for the covers of the books they first read.
Apart from the books themselves, the stories have inspired an incredible number of adaptations for the cinema, TV and radio, all over the world, with some still being made even as this website was being constructed. There are even books being written right now, and TV films being made, starring the author herself as the sleuth. All this is inspiring ever more 11-year-olds in the 21st Century to pick up, or download, her books.
Her works have so far been translated into over 200 languages and dialects. Because of this, and because her style is so easy to understand, and the basic stories so well known, many people use Agatha Christie as an entry point to the study of English as a Foreign Language; similarly, many English people use her books to help them learn French, German, Italian, Russian …
This continuing global phenomenon shows no sign of abating, and I had been totally unaware of the enormity of it until I started the re-read.
This website contains a review of each of Agatha Christie’s crime fiction books. This is not a fanzine: the reviews of each book will be very much my personal take on them, and not all of the reviews will be glowing. Far from it … I should also warn that some will reveal, or make obvious, the identity of the murderer, so don’t read the page until you’ve read the book.
There will be quite an emphasis within each review on the attitudes and prejudices demonstrated by the various characters in the text. These are not all pleasant to read about today, but books cannot help but be influenced in some way by the time when they were written, and Agatha Christie’s canon is almost a symphonic representation of British society, at home and abroad, in the half-century that it spanned.
That was not something that would have occurred to me at the age of 11.