In which we share our current obsessions
1. Lord Edgware Dies, BBC Radio 4
There is no shortage of Agatha Christie adaptations, for screen or for radio. But this, originally recorded by the BBC in 1992, feels like the warm familial hug we need on a blustery spring day. It stars the wonderful and under-appreciated John Moffatt, a British stage actor with pitch-perfect timing. Moffatt, who died in 2012 just shy of his 90th birthday, established his career in the era of Noël Coward and John Gielgud, as well as a whole posse of British dames, including Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith (with whom he starred on the stage in a 1970 production of Hedda Gabler directed by Ingmar Bergman). A master of comic timing, he make a wonderful Poirot, just the right balance of conceit and scorn. The adaptation is in five half-hour episodes, a perfect length to listen to while you’re making dinner.
2. The Case of Agatha Christie, London Review of Books
As a companion piece to Lord Edgware Dies, take time out to read this wonderful essay by the writer John Lanchester. It’s been 100 years since Agatha Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which was also the first outing of Inspector Hercule Poirot, surely the best loved fictional detective in the world (though not perhaps the best known; that may be Sherlock Holmes). In this engaging journey through the Christie canon, published in the London Review of Books in December 2018, Lanchester set about asking himself why Christie was the only author he could read while he was engaged in his own writing.
The plain, unvarnished quality of her writing, her focus on the mechanics of the plot over character development, made her novels more timeless than those of her contemporaries.
Even as he admitted that Christie’s prose was “flat and functional,” and her characters “on a spectrum between types, stereotypes and caricatures,” Lanchester hatched a theory to explain the longevity of Christie’s work: the plain, unvarnished quality of her writing, her focus on the mechanics of plot over character development, made her novels more timeless that those of her contemporaries, like Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham. Although arguably better, more stylish writers, their effort to be au courant and somewhat progressive has left their books feeling anachronistic. There is much more of this, including an audacious argument that Christie belongs to Virginia Woolf and James Joyce as a great formalist. As he points out, “Christie produced a range of formal experiments so extensive that it’s quite difficult to think of an idea she didn’t try, short of setting a Poirot novel in a school for wizards.”
Yoko Ono, Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4
We’re unabashed fans of BBC Radio, and this radio show, on the air since 1942, may represent the world’s greatest single catalog of 20th century icons discussing life, love, and music. The format is simple: each week a celebrated guest is “cast away to a desert island” and must choose eight musical tracks that define their life (they also get to take a luxury and a beloved book!). In it’s near 80-year history the show has had only five different hosts, including (from 2006 to 2018) the sparkling Kirsty Young who could give Terry Gross a run for her money for the sparkling charm she deploys in steering her guests to their most tender and heartfelt confessions. This episode with Yoko Ono is a case in point. The artist talks warmly and generously about her life with John Lennon, and her account of his murder will leave you in tears. Her musical choices, from Bob Marley to Edith Piaf, are pretty wonderful, too.
Nigella Lawson’s Zucchini and Chickpea Filo Pie
Lockdown has turned us into a nation of bakers, but many home bakers in the U.K., can date their enthusiasm for pastry and dough to Nigella Lawson’s 2001 masterpiece, The Domestic Goddess, a bestseller that has become a classic. Lawson, who has her own shelf of favorite books at One Grand, revels in rich and unctuous cakes and pies, but also finds room for a savory pie or two. This one is simple and quick with a short ingredient list, although separating the filo sheets can be fiddly. And if you grow your own zucchini, it’s an excellent way to use them up come June.