Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Secret Adversary (book)

Dust jacket, first UK edition.
Emphasis on Bolshevism
Straining to relax, working to rest on the porch of the Barnstable, I finished reading Evelyn Waugh's entire absurd Vile Bodies and sitting next to me was a copy of Juliet Nicolson's The Great Silence.

Writing, eventually, would be in order. But research ... research is also important. Why, only just last year, at practically the same time I was burning through The Time Machine and A Brave Vessel as inspiration for The Great Globe Itself which was written, in large part, right there on that porch.

Nicolson's book details that period between the conclusion of the Great War and the beginning of the Jazz Age, as it occurred in Great Britain. (Side note: I really need to read an account of the war from the point of view of the Germans. Recommendations welcome.) The Secret Adversary takes place in 1921, at least according to Tuppence who recalls that her and Tommy's last meeting was five years hence in 1916.

Mid-century paperback edition.
Emphasis on MURDER!
Three issues of importance from that period resonate strongly in this work of Christie's; a general hatred for anything German, continued national deprivation and lack of employment (especially for the young) and with that a concurrent streak of labor unrest and a tangible fear of a Communist-backed revolt.

The Great Silence is an altogether demoralizing book. There is no finding reason in the great European conflict of 1914-18. Of all the horrific and plainly emotionally deadening facts paraded for our reflection, one stood out to me as most unhappy making.

Like many I have always assumed the war called "Great" was only classified as the "first" world war once there the "second" has established a succession. This is not the case. The term The First World War was first suggested in 1918 by an American academic writing about the conflict.

Recent, 21st century edition.
Emphasis on Lusitania.
That author was accused of cynicism, but history proves this person was merely striving for accuracy and was ultimately proved correct.

Deep knowledge of the "world of play" is not necessary for enjoying a work like Secret Adversary, but motivation and character is better understood with at least a basic education. Why are Tommy and Tuppence so obsessed with their next meal? Why is their banter of these two, young English people so blunt, wry, jaded and unapologetic?

And how on earth can an entire novel center on a single sheet of paper, one which ostensibly makes possible the toppling of the current Britain government and also pave the way for a wholesale Communist takeover without ever explaining exactly what the document says?

It is a mystery.

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