Biographical graphic novel about famous crime fiction novelist
I picked up this book at a Lifeline Bookfair, I think. I haven’t read much of Agatha Christie, but a lot of my family members enjoy her work, especially her books about the Belgian detective Poirot. A graphic novel sub-genre I’ve enjoyed previously is graphic novel biographies with one of the best being “Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Graphic Biography” which includes the incredible story of her father Otto Frank. I must have picked this one up some time ago, and decided to read it during my Short Stack Reading Challenge. I actually had a lot of trouble getting the right photograph for this review. I’ve been in the UK and Belgium, and tried to take photos at a library hotel, a comic book museum and even a comic-themed hotel. I’m not really happy with any of them (and was disappointed I didn’t see any Poirot statutes or anything in Brussels) so I’ll just include them all and be done with it.
“Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie” by Anne Martinetti, Guillaume Lebeau and Alexandre Franc, and translated from French by Edward Gauvin is a biographical graphic novel about the famous crime fiction author Agatha Christie. The story opens with Agatha’s mysterious disappearance in 1926 and the grilling of her husband by police. The story then turns to Agatha’s childhood to follow the journey of how she became a bestselling writer and the events that led up to her disappearance, discovery and life afterwards.
This is an interesting presentation of a biography that takes some creative liberties to share Agatha’s story in a unique way. The art style, while simple, is easy to follow and captures the mood and key details of the era Agatha lived in. Agatha’s life is depicted as colourful and rich, full of inspiration for her stories. The authors made the interesting narrative choice to have Agatha converse with her character Poirot throughout the book: sometimes seeking creative and emotional support, sometimes using him as a soundboard, and sometimes arguing with him about his own character arc.
I think while in many ways it is an original way to tell a story, I wasn’t sure that Agatha and Poirot’s conversations always added to the overall story. I appreciate what the authors were trying to achieve but I felt that their characterisation of Poirot, someone very invested in his own story, didn’t really match with Agatha’s own characterisation. The simplicity of the art style and the limited colour palette did make it difficult at times to distinguish between the characters.
A quaint and engaging way to present a biography and one that has inspired me to read more of Agatha Christie’s work.
The author of this book came to speak at an event in Canberra earlier this year, and although I unfortunately couldn’t make it – I did manage to meet the author later on in the evening. Having heard the premise of this book, I knew it was one I was going to have to read. Then I had the absolute pleasure of seeing her speak at the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
“The Trauma Cleaner” by Sarah Krasnostein is a biography of transgender Melbourne woman Sandra Pankhurst. A trauma cleaner whose business is in cleaning up humanity’s worst messes from suicides to hoarding situations, Krasnostein’s book explores how Sandra went from a neglected little boy to a successful and resilient woman. Interspersed throughout Sandra’s story are the stories of her clients: sad and lonely people who are being suffocated by their traumas.
Krasnostein writes with a piercing depth that is difficult to encapsulate. She applies an academic rigour to the story, but also manages to reach multiple layers of humanity both in sharing Sandra’s story as well as the story of her clients. This story is so thoroughly researched yet so honest about where the limits of verifiable fact lie. Sandra is a fascinating person and Krasnostein explores each of her many lives with an exacting sensitivity that demands empathy from the reader. Krasnostein maintains her sense of candour when describing Sandra’s sad upbringing, exiled to the shed by her neglectful and occasionally violent family; her brief stint as a father and husband; the shocking grief of losing her girlfriend; her years working as a sex worker; her years as the wife of a businessman; and, finally, her life as a successful businesswoman.
Having worked in the mental health sector, I thought that Krasnostein did an excellent job navigating the stories of Sandra’s clients. Hoarding is a particularly insidious mental health issue and although it is actually relatively common, it can be difficult for others to relate to. I think one of my favourite parts of the book was when Krasnostein captured Sandra’s finesse and compassion in speaking to these people and asking them to help her help them.
I think the only thing that felt a little jarring was that on a few occasions, Krasnostein goes to some lengths defend Sandra and her choices. However, I think that Sandra’s story really speaks for itself. Sandra’s kindness radiates off the page and the occasions where she made mistakes just make her feel even more relatable.
Anyway, there is absolutely no question why this book won two prizes at the Victorian Premier’s literary awards. It is excellently written and excellently researched, and it tells the story of someone whose story would otherwise never have been told.