|All photos are of the Farne Islands (not racist)|
Ooh, this was good. Really, really good. Dark and nuanced and taut and fun.
We recently read And Then There Were None in our mummies book group. Thankfully, knowing the culprit in advance didn't diminish my enjoyment of this Boxing Day television adaptation. Although I would like to know how much of a genuine shock it was at the end to those not in the know. In the book, you only find out the murderer via a message in a bottle tossed out to sea and washed ashore a while later. In the television adaption, the villain walked into the room for a chat with the final victim as she choked in a noose. The murderer then went calmly to his room and committed suicide. Some interaction between the murderer and the final victim (who hangs herself) is alluded to in the book, as a crucial chair gets moved back against the wall, but it could also be assumed that this happened post-death.
So the story is as follows. Ten seemingly unconnected people are lured to an island off the Devon coast by someone with the initials UN Owen. (Unknown, geddit?) The island originally had a racist name, then another racist name, but now the more acceptable "Soldier Island" seems to have stuck. (However, anti-Semitic remarks in the opening few pages of the novel have thus far been glossed over and are still to be edited out.) Some of the ten think they are going to the island to work, others for a break, others for a bit of a laugh. But a few more background checks may not have gone amiss, for they couldn't be more wrong. On the first evening, a gramophone record shrieks out their crimes. They have all in some way been responsible for the death of someone else, and for this they must pay. They are then bumped off one by one by persons - well, UN Owen. Except that there is only them on the island, it's too stormy for anyone else to land (or anyone to leave), so it's got to be one of them. Each murder takes the pattern of a line of the rhyme "Ten Little Soldier Boys" (or earlier racist versions thereof). On the telly, the murders were a lot more gory than implicated by Agatha Christie's clinical, succinct prose. There was a lot of blood.
The book has a rather "stiff upper lip" approach to the whole business. So I loved the darkness of the television adaptation, the portrayal of the psychological stress of watching people being killed and knowing the inevitable was coming. The suspicion of everybody. The lack of escape options, with no chance of rescue thanks to the aforementioned timely storm (not yet named). The meticulous planning of the whole thing is so sinister, so spooky. The television characters had few redeeming features. Their past crimes were more clear-cut, premeditated and evil than in the book. The book led you to believe some of the people's wrongdoings may have been accidents, but no chance of that on the television. Some characters exhibit no remorse whatsoever. Others were clearly tormented by the past, but perhaps only now that it was coming back to torment them. Big time.
Now, I have never received a letter out of the blue, accepted its invitation to put myself on a train and gone off for a few days to an island to watch people get murdered. I write this post merely as a little shout-out of love for my book group, who "literally" (boom-boom) saved my life when it was set up four years ago. They are a group of the loveliest ladies in the world. (You know who you are.) Our monthly meet-ups are the highlight of my month. (They are often the only night out of my month.) We take it in turns to pick a book and to host. The books are usually short and not too complicated for mums with not enough time to read. (Though someone once chose Possession, and we forgave her.) There is always wine, crisps and cake, and plenty of good cheer and comfort in girl power. And we always do make a reasonable attempt to talk about the book before sliding into the inevitable chat. Outside of book group, our children have play dates. Some of us have celebrated Christmas and New Year together. Mummies need each other. And there is solidarity in good writing and good company.