Notes on Elephants Can Remember

Rating: 3.5 out of five

Year of Publication: 1972

Motive for MurderLove (as a tragedy)

Plot: A cold case was informally reopened after Mrs. Ariadne Oliver was approached by a woman during a literary luncheon. Her son had intended to marry Mrs. Oliver’s  goddaughter, Celia Ravenscroft. On the occasion she was asked: ‘Did her (Mrs. Oliver’s goddaughter) mother kill her father or was it the father who killed the mother?’

This encounter led to her consulting Hercule Poirot, which resulted in having her curiosity aroused towards the circumstances surrounding Celia’s parents’ death. Between twelve and fourteen years ago, the husband and wife were found dead with her father’s revolver between the bodies near their home Overcliffe.  The police concluded it as a double suicide. Yet the motive remained unclear.

Mrs. Oliver’s interviews to some people unearthed facts the police had overlooked on the case. Her “elephants” told her small things that mattered. For Elephants Don’t Forget: some people remembered certain things despite those occurred many years before.

Did the husband and wife actually commit suicide?  For there was an old saying:

Old Sins Have Long Shadows

 

Cast of Characters:

General Alistair and Margaret Ravenscroft (Celia Ravenscroft’s parents)

Ariadne Oliver (Celia Ravenscroft’s Godmother)

Celia Ravenscroft

Desmond Burton-Cox (Celia’s close friend)

Dolly Jarrow (nee Preston-Grey, Margaret’s twin sister)

Mrs. Burton-Cox (who went up to Ariadne Oliver and enquired her)

Ex-Chief Superintendent Garroway

The Honourable Julia Carstairs (one of Mrs. Oliver’s “elephants”)

Hercule Poirot

Miss Livingstone (Mrs. Oliver’s assistant)

Mrs. Matcham (one of the “elephants”; Mrs. Oliver’s nanny)

Ex-Superintendent Spence

Mrs. Rosentelle (a hair stylist, the one who made Margaret’s wigs)

Dr. Willoughby (the son of the doctor who dealt with Dolly Jarrow’s case)

Zelie Meureohat (the French governess to Celia Ravenscroft)

The Most Fascinating Characters: Dolly Jarrow/Dorothea Preston-Grey

She was a silent character; facts about her were told by other characters from mere reminiscent and observations on her state of mind. Yet all of them were strangers, who did not know her truly as a person.  As a matter of fact, there were two who could have told much: her twin sister and her brother-in-law. Unfortunately their being demise could not be accounted for.

Her being mentioned for the first time was only at the second part of the story. As Poirot compared notes with the retired Chief Superintendent Garroway, the latter reckoned Margaret Ravenscroft’s twin sister, Dorothea. The identical twins were known as Dolly and Molly. Furthermore, Garroway stated about Dolly’s second child, a boy of four, who was dead from  drowning. It was believed that the incident was triggered by his quarrel with the elder sister. Nonetheless, it was noted that a different account was given by a servant. For she had witnessed that it was her mistress who killed her own son.

Further discoveries about Dolly’s background saw that prior to the boy’s death her husband, Captain Jarrow, died in an accident. Yet  Dolly’s troubled mind history backdated to her youth.

When she was thought to have recovered then Margaret took her to live with her family when Captain Ravenscroft  were stationed in Malaya. Then a similar incident which involved a different child happened. Dolly was sent back to Britain straightaway and referred to Dr. Willoughby’s father who was interested to take her case.

Having interviewed the said psychiatrist, Poirot realised Dolly’s connection to the Ravenscrofts’ deaths. Moreover, Dolly appeared to stay in Overcliffe and died three weeks before the suicides from sleep-walking.

The curtain fell when Poirot finally found the sole witness who knew what really happened – his last link.

Clues:

Mrs. Burton-Cox: ‘…In a marriage, you must admit, one has to think of the children. The children, I mean, that are come. I mean heredity. I think now we realize that heredity does more than environment…’

Ex-Chief Superintendent Garroway:

‘….Same man, different hat, as one used to say in my young days’.

Hercule Poirot:

‘With people, one never knows’.

‘Somewhere in the past, in more cases than one, there is something that one will have to know before we can come back again to what happened – what is it now?- fifteen years ago, twenty years ago, at a house called Overcliffe…’

Dr. Willoughby:

‘On certain occasions a state of animosity can arise between identical twins. It follows on a first keen protective love one for the other, but  I can degenerate into something which is nearer hatred, if there is some emotional strain that could trigger it off or could arouse it, or any emotional crisis to account for animosity arising between two sisters’.

The Twists:

–          The four wigs found at Overcliffe

–          The respective incidents which resulted in the deaths of two different children

–          The dog bit her master (Margaret Ravenscroft) days before her death

–          Desmond Burton-Cox was an adopted son

Highlights:

In her later years as an author, Christie still did not lose her touch. Her paraphrasing a title of children’s story showed it very much.

Moving on, her take on geriatric issues in  Ariadne Oliver’s manner sounded like Christie’s reflections upon her senior moments. The chapter about the literary luncheon pinpointed mainly her personal views on being an authoress and her mingling with other authors.

Furthermore, her direct reference to Five Little Pigs (1943) could have been her taking cold case in a different light. It began with the intention of finding the truth in which Clara Lemarchant easily reminded readers of Celia Ravenscroft. Although the latter was older and seemed to be vague about marriage, both unconscious minds were curious – such was likened to the insatiable curiosity of the elephant’s child in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories.

On a personal level, Christie’s notion concerning hereditary factor was intriguing. Through Mrs. Burton-Cox character she emphasized “heredity does more than environment”. Nevertheless, she balanced it with younger generation’s opposite views that the past was not significant.  Although in a way a “yes but” attitude could have been applied.

In Amyas Crale’s murder, Poirot worked alone to deduce his conclusions from the accounts of five suspects.  Yet his collaboration with Mrs. Oliver proved to be beneficial in finding the motive.

Be that as it may, the story was not just a matter of Christie’s skills  to delight readers with another case. Principally, it was her attention to details that was of great importance bearing in mind that she had been an octogenarian woman at the time of writing.  Arguably, not many author could have done such; the intricacies of names, places and setting as nothing was the same.

More importantly, I would like to reflect about the book title a little. Was it just her keenness on a particular children’s story? Or was it a statement about herself? Never mind about the crime.

Above all, her deliberation about mental illnesses in the family might have been the very issue that was dearest to her mind. At any rate, it also differentiated the Ravenscrofts’ case to Amyas Crale’s.  Nonetheless, if I could ask Christie, there were two questions: firstly, how did Poirot find out about Dolly? Secondly, why another three deaths?

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