The Disappearance of Agatha Christie: Background information when reading The Truants

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The Truants

by Kate Weinberg

The Truants by Kate Weinberg X
The Truants by Kate Weinberg
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2020, 320 pages

    Paperback:
    Jan 2021, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Cook
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The Disappearance of Agatha Christie

This article relates to The Truants

Print Review

Agatha ChristieIn Kate Weinberg's The Truants, the main character, Jess Walker, suggests to her professor, Lorna Clay, that famed author Agatha Christie's "hardest to crack" mystery may have emerged not in her writing, but in her life. Jess is referring to the time that Christie disappeared for 11 days, later claiming to have suffered memory loss, an event that remains the subject of much debate and speculation.

Christie was 36 years old at the time of her disappearance. On the evening of December 3, 1926, she drove away from her house in Berkshire, England. Her car, a green Morris Crowley, was later found in a ditch close to the city of Guildford (40 miles away), and Christie herself had vanished.

Christie's disappearance sparked national news stories and a search involving more than a thousand police officers and thousands more volunteers. Some people speculated that the event was a publicity stunt. Others thought that Christie's husband, Archie, was responsible for his wife going missing. Archie was known to be having an affair with a young woman named Nancy Neele, and he and Agatha had fought on the morning preceding her disappearance before he had gone off to spend the weekend with Nancy.

When Christie was found 11 days later, it turned out that she had been staying at a hotel in Harrogate, a spa town in Yorkshire. She had registered under the last name of her husband's mistress, and specified South Africa as her place of residence. She appeared to have simply been relaxing at the hotel, unaware of the massive ongoing search for her. When her husband showed up with the police, she didn't seem to immediately recognize him. She later said she suffered from amnesia, and this claim was backed up by psychiatrists.

Several theories have been posed as to what happened to Christie during her disappearance. Some people adhere to the belief that she did suffer from memory loss as she claimed, but others think that she made up the story. For example, in The Mystery of Agatha Christie, published in 1978, Gwen Robyns opined that Christie simply disappeared to get revenge on her husband, inventing her case of amnesia.

More specific takes have appeared in recent years. In 2006, Andrew Norman, a biographer of Christie's, theorized that the author suffered from a "fugue state," a rare type of amnesia. Norman, a former doctor who used medical case studies as evidence for his theory in his book The Finished Portrait, believed that Christie's amnesia was induced by a state of depression. Conversely, writer Andrew Wilson used his 2017 novel A Talent for Murder to explore his personal theory that Christie initially planned to commit suicide but changed her mind, then didn't want anyone to know that she had entertained the thought and made up the amnesia story as a cover. However, a 2017 Scientific American article by Stefania de Vito and Sergio Della Sala, which draws on multiple sources of expert opinion on the case, offsets theories that Christie lied by pointing out that the symptoms of amnesia are not so easy to fake. Even more recently, in The Mystery of Mrs. Christie, Marie Benedict put her own imaginative spin on the legendary disappearance.

In short, it's entirely plausible that Christie was telling the truth about her memory loss, though what exactly happened to her during those 11 days remains a mystery.

Agatha Christie

Filed under Books and Authors

Article by Elisabeth Cook

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Truants. It originally ran in February 2020 and has been updated for the January 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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