Monday, December 07, 2015

Star Over Bethlehem (1965)

     Agatha Christie. Star Over Bethlehem (1965) The mystery novels contain hints that Christie was a believer, especially her brief comments on guilt, innocence, and just punishment. This collection of stories and poems gives us a fuller impression of her beliefs.
      In I a Mrs Grierson knows that her dislike of people compromises her good works, done from moral conviction. She wishes that she could like the people she helps. A stranger on a water taxi wears a seamless robe. Tempted, she touches it, the touch transforms the way she sees and feels about her fellow humans. In the Cool of the Evening tells of an autistic boy who meets a stranger in his garden. With the stranger, he invents names for the odd animals that result from a nearby radioactive spill. His mother, embarrassed by him, doesn’t recognise his gift, and wishes he were normal.
     The last story, Promoted to the Highest, is a fantasy in which fourteen saints, depicted in an ancient fresco in a country church, petition to be allowed to return to Earth to continue their work. Dying for their faith wasn’t enough; they need to live it. Their request is granted. The recipients of their miraculous powers are rather disreputable. Christie shows her suspicion of mere respectability here as much as in her mysteries.
     I think this slight book should be more widely known. Christie strings clues and misinterpretations together just as she does in her mysteries. The stories  achieve their purposes. They’re parables, relying on outline of plot and character in order to prompt the us to think about puzzles that are difficult to pose any other way, and whose solution will always be provisional. Philosophers may be satisfied with abstractions. The rest of us want concrete experience. Christie delivers. These pieces remind me of C. S. Lewis. ***

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