Eight very different people are invited to stay on an unfortunately named island. As they are transported there, they find that there are only two servants present and that their host is expected to arrive the following day. But after dinner, a recording is heard accusing each of the ten people present of having committed murder - and almost immediately after, one of them keels over, poisoned...
Everyone knows about this one, for both good and bad reasons. Let's just say that the bad reasons are doubly unfortunate as they tend to divert conversation from the important thing - the excellence of the story. This is truly a once in a lifetime read, and I think the one which takes most people unawares (though Christie has a few others of this ilk...) I can still remember lending this to my sister and the surprise she expressed after having read it.
But it's not just the solution that impresses, the entire journey through the novel is quite excellent. The suspects/victims are treated with care and presented as humans, though with varying despicable traits. There are one or two instances where we're allowed to follow the thoughts of the persons present which could perhaps be construed as being a bit of a stretch once you know the solution, but that's a minor quibble.
If you haven't read this, go do so. It's a solid 99 out of 100. And if you have indeed read it, do so again. Go on, it's not like you have anything better to do.
Okay. Let's do the Swedish title first. The original title was the equivalent of Ten Little Negro Boys. The Swedish neger never had the incredibly negative connotations of the original British N-word, and was probably less offensive even than Negro. Unlike the British, who switched titles in the mid 80s, we didn't follow suit until the very latest edition. We also made a small change that actually changes the focus of the nursery rhyme - Och så var de bara en means And Then There Was Only One. I don't really have a preference for either title variation - though the Swedish variant is a little bit less spoiler-y...
Moving on to the covers, which are even more problematic than the title. In our own clueless way, we focused on the Negro part of the title. If you want to be charitable, I guess you could say that at least the covers got less and less offensive over time, from the earliest editions over 1955's Zebra cover to Delfinserien in 1961. The latter is the best of this early lot, definitely, as it's less personalised and doesn't feature caricatures of people from Africa.
The next four covers aren't a whole lot better. What is interesting is that the one from 1976, which is the least offensive of this bunch, is actually a bookclub cover! Never thought I'd say that in a million years. The covers from 1982 and 1985 are very similar. They've simply changed the focus from the author to the title of the novel for the later edition, which is the one I have. The 1984 cover is yet again a copy of the British Fontana cover, which just goes to show that we're all equally offensive at times...
1990's centenary edition again features a variation of the cover from the contemporaneous British edition. Now it's just a figurine - at least we're slowly getting better. And with the cover from 1994 I think we've almost left offensiveness behind. But only almost. I like the skulls, but it's a pity that they have to parody the way some women in Africa carry water jugs on their heads. The final ethnic stereotype comes with the fetishes on the cover from 1999.
It's a very rare thing when a cover such as the one from 2001 can be called "among the best", because that's a dead boring cover. That says a lot about the other things we've seen here. 2003 is a large print edition, and it might just have the best cover of them all, with an atmospheric photograph of the island where most of the action takes place. The 2014 cover also features the island, and as usual uses the typography of the title in creative ways. Not bad at all. And also, it has the new title.
What is that 2001 cover? A snake?ReplyDelete
I think it’s a rope. But what I’d like to know is why the ‘84 cover has a voodoo doll and an iguana hovering over an egg on it??ReplyDelete
Heh. That you'll have to ask Tom Adams of Fontana cover fame - he's the one who made it! :)Delete
And yeah, with better resolution it's possible to see that the 2001 cover features a rope. Though I don't know why it's not tied into a noose...