Notes On The Hollow

Rating: four out of five

Year of Publication: 1946

Motive for Murder: Hatred

Plot: The Hollow: the home of the Angkatells in the country outside London. Six people came for the weekend; four cousins and the Christows.  Hercule Poirot was the seventh invitee.

The butler ushered him. Little did he realise he walked into a murder scene. The sleuth saw John Christow sprawl by the swimming pool, blood oozing from his head. “Henrietta…” was his last word. Nearby the lifeless body Mrs. Christow held a gun.

Poirot was not amused. Something was not quite right, as if it was staged.  Did the wife really kill her husband? What did John Christow mean by calling for “Henrietta”?

As Inspector Grange’s team searched for clues, every lead they followed did not come to fruition. Lies uttered and evidences had been tampered. Meanwhile, as Poirot sat on a bench on path above the chestnut trees, he caught a glimpse of the pool down below. Then he murmured to Henrietta Savernake who was sitting next to him, “I hate the dreadful hollow behind the little wood….

 

The eyes see, sometimes, what they are meant to see

Hercule Poirot

Highlights:

Christie had something up her sleeves by slowly cooking up a murder. A tranquil country home might have been the last thing for a crime; yet in Midsomer Murders series the country was never dull. Back stories and reminiscences flew from the onset up to the point when all six invitees arrived in the Hollow on a mild Saturday in the autumn.

Alfred Tennyson

What was in the authoress mind? What made her choose a swimming pool, which was surrounded by chestnut grove trees?  The answer was Alfred Tennyson’s Maud: a monodrama (part I)– a dark poem; the last in the trilogy of his comedies. Hence “the hollow” and “the little wood”from the first line of the poem.

In Christie’s adaptation, it was a man and his three women: a wife, a mistress and an ex-fiance. Their respective love were distinctive and intricate. Christie was toeing the line with the poet’s view as she followed closely stanza after stanza. She seemed to agree with the poet’s notion which highlighted love as a problem; a prison to the narrator’s soul.  John Christow’s prophecy was introduced through his daughter, a nine-year-old Zena Christow, in a seemingly harmless card fortune telling. A death was announced in the end, which naturally upset the young mind but the adult.  He simply thought it as a joke, telling her, ‘your mother is going to run over someone on the way out of London’.

Knowing Christie, Maud was an understandable choice as grief shadowing the beauty of Tennyson’s words. Nonetheless, it was not an easy poem to read – dark matter and all.  For the curtain was not drawn back until the first stanza was quoted. Everything then fell into its place – the three surviving women with their subtle jealousy, rage and grief.

I appreciated Christie’ efforts to lighten up such a “depressing” masterpiece. Lady Lucy Angkatell’s character was most amusing while the authoress took advantages from Poirot as a foreigner and an outsider. Should readers expect a criticism on the loopholes of  English judicial system (The Mysterious Affair At Styles, they would be in for disappointment. For it was Queen Victoria’s famous line “we are not amused” which was aptly used. Yes, the detective was not amused at all having to work on a case instead of enjoying a Sunday lunch.

It was worth mentioning two children as minor characters. Of course Christie had done it before. Readers would recall Clara LeMarchant in Five Little Pigs (1943) and Ariadne Oliver’s goddaughter in Elephants Can Remember (1968). The difference was that they were already adults who sought truth, which was a contrast to Terence and Zena Christows. For both had voices despite at their young ages woven into the story that showed the dynamics of the Christows. Terence’s conversations with his mother Gerda were thought-provoking whereas Zena’s with his father was shocking. Moreover, Christie hinted on the brother and sister’s sound minds that  underlined the notion that a child feels and understand things much better than the adults around them think of. For instance, Terence did not ask Gerda who the murderer was but why his father was killed. Was it like for Christie’s daughter when her father left her mother for another woman? I could only wonder.

The good news was in the midst of it  a love was blossoming. In the end, Christie disagreed with Tennyson. For love was also a solution, for there was hope and enjoyment to life itself.

Cast of Characters:

Jonathan Cake as John Christow in 2004’s TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Poirot Series.

Madame Alfage (Midge Hardcastle’s employer)

Beryl Collins (John Christow’s Secretary)

David Angkatell (the Angkatells’ relative, Edward Angkatell’s heir)

Edward Angkatell (Lady Lucy’s first cousin and an heir to Ainswick)

Elsie Patterson (Gerda’s sister)

Gerda Christow (John Cristow’s wife)

Inspector Grange

Gudgeon (the butler in the Hollow)

Henrietta Savernake (the Angkatell’s first cousin, a sculptress, John Christow’s mistress)

Sir Henry Angkatell (Lady Lucy’s husband, Poirot’s oacquaintance; they met each other in Baghdad)

Hercule Poirot (staying at Resthaven, a cottage half a mile from the Hollow)

Dr. John Cristow (a Harley Street doctor, Gerda’s husband)

Lady Lucy Angkatell (the host of the weekend party)

Midge Harcastle (the Angkatells’s first cousin)

Miss Simmons (the housemaid in the Hollow)

Terence Christow (a thirteen-year-old boy, John and Gerda’s son)

Veronica Clay (John’s former fiancée, a Hollywood actress)

Zena Christow (a nine-year-old girl, John and Gerda’s daughter)

 

The Twists:

–          The revolver retrieved from the pool was different to revolver used to kill Christow

–          A Ygdrasil doodle found in the pavilion near the pool

–          A.38 revolver was found inside the clay horse at Henrietta Savernake’s studio

–          The perpetrator kept the revolver’s holster

The Most Fascinating Character: Gerda Christow

Was she one of the Angkatells’s cousins? It was unclear. What was clear that Gerda Christow was loathe to come to the Hollow had it not been for her husband. She had wanted to please him. As a matter of fact, she had worshipped him.

To Gerda’s mind, the Hollow made her restless. She did not like her hostess who secretly thought her as pathetic and did not understand a single word the latter had said. As a personae, Gerda was potrayed as very nervous and rather clumsy. As a wife, she was a doormat. Although interestingly, the issue was not because of her lacking in confidence. Perhaps the following excerpt could offer a glimpse about her past:

Gerda has not been very happy at school. At school there had been even less assurance than elsewhere. Home had been better. But even home had not been very good. For they had all, of course, been quicker and cleverer than she was. Their comments, quick, impatient, not quite unkind, had whistled about her ears like a hailstorm. Hadn’t they seen, all of them, that that was the way to make her slower and stupider still? She’d got worse and worse, more clumsy with her fingers, more slow-witted, more inclined to stare vacantly at what was said to her. Until, suddenly, she had reached the point where she had found out a way out. Almost accidentally, really, she found her weapon of defence.

As much the above was quite straightforward, three questions hovered in my head. First, how much could it tell about her? Secondly, what her home environment was like before she left for school, presumably a boarding one? Third, what happened to her parents and siblings – if she had any?

People seemed to have taken Gerda for granted. She was polite and grateful, although her vacant eyes troubled Lady Lucy. Her being perceived as “slow” and vague caused people to do things on her behalf. She was reassured subsequently that things would be taken care for her. Nobody would have guessed that such then she learnt as to how she could benefit from the perceptions.

As a result, she did not mind being called “stupid”. At any rate, she was like an echo to Amy Carnaby (The Labours of Hercules). In fact, she might have been an echo to herself – telling others what they had expected to hear.

Personally Gerda triggered my thinking about distorted reality. Could reality be a lie? Furthermore, was someone I have known actually someone I have known the least?

On the other hand, I felt a great pity to her. For she knew better about herself but let people think otherwise. She was clever but complacent. Little did people realise she had found her way about the world very well. Yet, the only thing that came from her heart was her resentment to the Angkatells. And even so she did not admit it.

Clues:

Beryl Collins:

‘If you think Mrs. Christow killed her husband, I am quite sure you are wrong. Mrs. Christow is not at all a violent woman. She is very meek and submissive, and she was entirely under the doctor’s thumb….’

John Christow:

‘I want to go home’

‘Henrietta…’

Inspector Grange:

To Poirot: ‘It could have – yes [that Gerda did not kill John]. But it’s a thin story. And they all think she killed him. They know something we don’t.’

Gerda Christow:

‘It is really delightful to get out of London, and Lady Angkatell is so very kind’.

‘….You know I haven’t been able to feel – I still can’t feel- that it’s real – that John- is dead.’

‘I don’t believe anybody could have had a grudge against John. He was the kindest and most unselfish- oh, and one of the noblest men.’

Sir Henry Angkatell:

‘Lucy doesn’t realise that there are things she can’t do. She gets away with things. She always has’.

Henrietta Savernake:

‘One never knows what goes on in Lucy’s head.’

‘Lucy has got good manners and she can be gracious. But she is rather a cruel person. I think really because she isn’t quite human – she doesn’t know what it’s like to feel and think like ordinary people. And you are hating being here, Gerda! You know you are. And why should you come if you feel like that?’

‘It’s dangerous, John. You assume that every one likes you, that they mean well to you. People like Lucy, for instance.’

‘Why are you all so sure that Gerda killed John?’

Inspector Grange:

John Christow:

‘I’m sorry, Veronica, if I’ve hurt you. You’re very lovely, my dear, and I once loved you very much. Can’t we leave it at that?’

‘Henrietta….’

Lady Lucy Angkatell:

‘All the wrong people coming- the wrong people to be together, I mean – not in themselves. They’re all charming, really’.

‘I think one always has to take some risk. And one should do it quickly and not think too much about it.’

‘I found him (John Christow) amusing. And he had charm. But I never think one ought to attach too much importance to anybody.’

Vera Clay:

‘This is just the most wonderful surprise. John’s an old old friend of mine. Why, John’s the first man I ever loved! I was crazy about you, John!’

Terence Christow:

‘Why was father shot?’

‘Why was he killed, Mother?’

Zena Christow:

‘That’s you in the middle, Father, the King of Hearts. The person whose fortune’s told is always the King of Hearts. And then I deal the others face down. Two on the left of you and two on the right of you and one over your head – that has power over you, and one under your feet – you have power over it. And this one- covers you!’

‘Oh, it’s the Ace of Spades! That’s usually a death – but-…’

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