AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Just to be alive is a grand thing," and Agatha Miller Christie Mallowan was alive for 85 years, the first 75 of which are recalled in this candid (to a point), devourable (utterly), and cheering autobiography—a memory book so buoyantly free of either artistic pretense or commercial imperative that the reading becomes, like the writing, "an indulgence." With the first glimpse of Hercule Poirot not appearing till halfway along, the emphasis is on childhood—perhaps the last record of a Victorian childhood that we'll have and certainly one of the rosiest. Christmas Dinners, boiled sweets, bathing machines, the thrill of fruit-patterned dessert plates, proper coconut shies, hoops, buttercups, and cream—Christie draws you in to the flush of remembering as she revels in the "art of leisure," an art crystallized in her Torquay home until Father's health and American income gave way simultaneously. Then the "art of flirting," practiced in colonial Cairo (cheaper there), where the tall girl with the full dance programme was returned to her mother with: "She dances beautifully. You had better teach her to talk now." Abandoning a career as either a pianist (too nervous) or singer (too weakvoiced), Agatha eagerly accepted her fifth proposal—subaltern Archie Christie—and plunged into V.A.D. work—"human towel rail," dispenser of Bip's paste and poisons—when Archie went to war. With Armistice: motherhood, flathunting, nanny-hunting. . . and a book called The Mysterious Affair at Styles, written on a dare (sister Madge was the talented one, Agatha "the slow one) and resulting in a first-year profit of 25 pounds. "I was a married woman, that was my status, and that was my occupation," and nothing changed that—not even landslides of royalties or the shock of her "ruthless" husband's demand for divorce. Christie omits the amnesia disappearance sensation of 1928 (making her "revulsion against the press" seem sudden and unwarranted), moving briskly on to a second wind—as plucky solo traveler in "Mem-Sahib Land," where archaeologist Max Mallowan (thirteen years younger) wooed her with mild-mannered ardor. Whether musing on her "unsatisfactory" brother ("He would certainly have been all right if he had been born Ludwig II of Bavaria") or out on a dig or decorating houses or pondering capital punishment, Dame Agatha is eager to smile, advise, draw morals, see both sides, and hope for the best. And the many fans who've hoped for the best from this last legacy will not be disappointed: they, along with readers who've never cared for whodunits, will find this year's Christie for Christmas an irresistible forget-me-not from a "tradesman in a good honest trade" who made the most of her talent and her time.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1977

ISBN: 0007314663

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Dodd, Mead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1977

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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