Rereading Absent in the Spring (Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott)

July 23, 2018


 

One of the things I like most about traveling is the complete break from the usual routine. I almost always come back from a trip refreshed and ready to make changes in my life…whether or not those changes actually take place. Sometimes it takes leaving home to see myself more clearly.

All that sounds pretty good—having time to oneself to re-center, finding solitude to think and evaluate one’s life.

It can also be a little bit frightening.

At least in the hands of Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott, in Absent in the Spring. I reread this book over the weekend, and it was as thought-provoking as I remembered it. (And no bodies in the library...this is a different kind of frightening.)

Absent was one of Christie’s favorite books. She completed it in three days straight, and wrote in her autobiography that it was “one book that has satisfied me completely…. It was the picture of a woman with a complete image of herself, of what she was, but about which she was completely mistaken…. What brought about this revelation would be the fact that for the first time in her life she was alone—completely alone—for four or five days.”

In the book, self-satisfied, middle-aged Englishwoman Joan Scudamore finds herself stranded at a rest house in the desert on her way home from visiting her daughter in Iraq. There are no other travelers for company, she runs out of things to read, uses up her writing paper, and has no sewing or handiwork to occupy her. She’s left with nothing to do but think and remember. At first, this makes her uneasy:

“The truth was, she reflected, that she had always led such a full and occupied life. So much interest in it. It was a civilized life. And if you had all that balance and proportion in your life, it certainly left you rather at a loss when you were faced with the barren uselessness of doing nothing at all. The more useful and cultured a woman you were, the more difficult it made it.”

And then downright frightened, as her thoughts take her places she’d rather not go.

“There was nothing to be afraid of in being alone—nothing at all.”
 
Eventually, she comes to see herself as she really is, not as she’s told herself she is all her life.

“She had got to know, once and for all, just what kind of a woman Joan Scudamore was….”

The title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, “From you have I been absent in the spring.”  One of Joan’s realizations is that even though she really loves her husband, she’s been “absent” from him in the ways that really matter.

When Joan returns to England, will she keep her hard-won self-knowledge and make changes? Or will she return to her old ways? I won’t spoil the end for you—you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Absent in the Spring was written in the 1940s, but anyone whose life is overfull with commitments, social media, and general busy-ness might recognize in themselves the tendency to fill up time with doing in order to avoid uncomfortable thinking.

At fewer than 200 pages, Absent in the Spring is a quick and compelling read. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

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4 comments

  1. Kathy I posted comment on google - but not sure you will receive it. This looks like a great read - haven't read it. Thanks for sharing. Hugs!

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    1. You're welcome, Debbie. It's definitely worth reading.

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  2. I just reserved it at the library, sounds uncomfortably interesting.

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    1. Hi, Susan! "Uncomfortably interesting" is the perfect term. Hope you like it!

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