“Elephants can remember, but we are human beings and mercifully human beings can forget.”
My first Christie of 2017. It took me a few attempts to get into the story, not because it was difficult to find a way to engage with the plot but purely because I enjoyed re-reading the opening of the story where Ariadne Oliver, Dame Agatha’s alter ego in this series, considers the different ways to wear a hat and which hat is appropriate for which occasion.
I love Ariadne. She’s the scatty, sassy, creative, liberal counterpart to Poirot. Not as brilliant in applying logic, but just as brilliant by her exuberance and love of life.
As for the story itself, this was quite different from previous works of Christie. Although there are some similarities with A Murder is Announced (one of my favourites), Elephants Can Remember is not a locked room mystery and puts much more emphasis on the different mental states and attitudes of the characters, who all seem to be entities who interact with each other, but who seem to act somewhat isolated from other characters.
Despite the occasional comic relief through Ariadne’s antics, there is little that is cozy or twee about this story and in a way it struck me as if Christie tried her hand at a dark, psychological thriller, rather than at another Poirot mystery. I very much admired the attempt. Many of the Christie novels I love best are quite dark – just look at Endless Night! – even though she is of course best known for mysteries that are more akin to puzzles than gritty crime novels.
Maybe my appreciation for Elephants Can Remember has been influenced by my recent foray into the writing of Patricia Highsmith, whose work was contemporary to Christie’s later work (including Elephants), but I did wonder whether Christie was influenced by the change in direction that crime fiction in the 1960s and 1970s seemed to have undergone.