In my quest to read all of Agatha Christie’s books (may or may not be achievable), I included on my list the six novels she wrote as Mary Westmacott. I expected these books to be different from Christie’s other fare (why else would she use a different name, other than to escape expectations?), but I was still surprised to find how heavy Giant’s Bread was.
Our story opens in London, with the opening night of a new opera. Strange, wild, artistic, innovative, alluring – it is a musical the likes of which have never been seen or heard before. The rest of the novel leads us to that opening night: how did such an opera come to be written?
Our story follows Vernon Deyre, a “poor little rich” boy, who is raised with everyone money can buy and very few of the things money can’t. Lonely, imaginative, and sensitive, Vernon is a rather unusual male protagonist, being neither brave nor strong. Vernon becomes friends with his cousin, Josephine (“Joe”), who comes to live with them, and later their neighbor, Sebastian, a young Jewish boy (which, between the wars, was an important facet of one’s character). In adulthood, Jane is added to the mix as well.
The book is really about all four of these individuals. The focus is on Vernon, but we learn a great deal about the other three as well. Even just seeing Vernon through the eyes of the other characters gives us insight into those individuals.
I can’t say that I enjoyed Giant’s Bread. It was, on the whole, quite depressing. I didn’t really like any of the four main characters, although Sebastian had his moments. It was definitely a character-study story. The plot was minimal and involved a lot of Vernon’s feelings. I’m also not completely sure what Christie/Westmacott was trying to say. In the end, Vernon sacrifices everything for his genius, and I’m not sure that I agree with the decision.
There were some good moments in this book, and the writing was solid. But it really comes back to the concept of “a novel” and the fact that, generally, I hate them. Constantly depressing, everyone’s worst features emphasized, no redemption. In the end, everyone is weak, and all four of the characters succumb to their particular weakness. In my mind, this book would have been much better if the characters had instead learned to recognize and overcome their deficiencies, instead of being destroyed by them.
A 2/5. I intend to read at least one more of her novels, but honestly, if it’s as depressing of a ride as this one, I may skip the rest!