On the other hand, all but the most devoted theorists will catch a whiff, sooner or later, of a conference paper run amok.

WHO KILLED ROGER ACKROYD?

THE MYSTERY BEHIND THE AGATHA CHRISTIE MYSTERY

Psychoanalyst Bayard takes a moment away from teaching French literature to reopen one of the most celebrated murder cases in fiction, with surprising results.

To those readers (probably Bayard’s entire audience) who object that the culprit has been obvious ever since Agatha Christie published The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in 1926, Bayard has a whole battery of answers. The evidence against the self-acknowledged killer, who nowhere explicitly confesses to the crime, is flimsy at best; Christie’s work is “a model of polysemy” that generates more meanings than any single ending can control; Hercule Poirot, the detective who solves the crime, may well be delusional. (On this last point, Bayard’s psychoanalytic training makes his argument as dense as it is unconvincing.) More generally and provocatively, Bayard insists that “all mystery fiction in effect implies the narrator’s bad faith” and is therefore subject to endless reinterpretation, despite Poirot’s conceited faith in his little gray cells. Bayard’s investigation is hampered by several schoolboy errors and an often unidiomatic translation. One of the major suspects in the novel is omitted from his cast of characters; Christie’s novel Five Little Pigs is confused with Ten Little Indians; and so many of her other titles are mistranslated that it becomes an intriguing minor mystery to figure out which novels are identified as The Valley, The Poisoned Pen, The Prothero Affair, and The Indiscretions of Hercule Poirot. Eventually, however, Bayard escapes these byways to propound a new solution that answers his objections about the one Christie gives. Even readers impatient with the subtleties of his entertainingly perverse argument are likely to find this solution satisfying.

On the other hand, all but the most devoted theorists will catch a whiff, sooner or later, of a conference paper run amok.

Pub Date: June 7, 2000

ISBN: 1-56584-579-X

Page Count: 176

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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DEAR MR. HENSHAW

Possibly inspired by the letters Cleary has received as a children's author, this begins with second-grader Leigh Botts' misspelled fan letter to Mr. Henshaw, whose fictitious book itself derives from the old take-off title Forty Ways W. Amuse a Dog. Soon Leigh is in sixth grade and bombarding his still-favorite author with a list of questions to be answered and returned by "next Friday," the day his author report is due. Leigh is disgruntled when Mr. Henshaw's answer comes late, and accompanied by a set of questions for Leigh to answer. He threatens not to, but as "Mom keeps nagging me about your dumb old questions" he finally gets the job done—and through his answers Mr. Henshaw and readers learn that Leigh considers himself "the mediumest boy in school," that his parents have split up, and that he dreams of his truck-driver dad driving him to school "hauling a forty-foot reefer, which would make his outfit add up to eighteen wheels altogether. . . . I guess I wouldn't seem so medium then." Soon Mr. Henshaw recommends keeping a diary (at least partly to get Leigh off his own back) and so the real letters to Mr. Henshaw taper off, with "pretend," unmailed letters (the diary) taking over. . . until Leigh can write "I don't have to pretend to write to Mr. Henshaw anymore. I have learned to say what I think on a piece of paper." Meanwhile Mr. Henshaw offers writing tips, and Leigh, struggling with a story for a school contest, concludes "I think you're right. Maybe I am not ready to write a story." Instead he writes a "true story" about a truck haul with his father in Leigh's real past, and this wins praise from "a real live author" Leigh meets through the school program. Mr. Henshaw has also advised that "a character in a story should solve a problem or change in some way," a standard juvenile-fiction dictum which Cleary herself applies modestly by having Leigh solve his disappearing lunch problem with a burglar-alarmed lunch box—and, more seriously, come to recognize and accept that his father can't be counted on. All of this, in Leigh's simple words, is capably and unobtrusively structured as well as valid and realistic. From the writing tips to the divorced-kid blues, however, it tends to substitute prevailing wisdom for the little jolts of recognition that made the Ramona books so rewarding.

Pub Date: Aug. 22, 1983

ISBN: 143511096X

Page Count: 133

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1983

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