Underneath my yellow skin

Poirot in and out

I am a Poirot fan, dare I say a stan. I have read all the books anywhere from five to fifty times. I have watched the series at least three times–in order. That’s not easy to do because the series is broken up in two, each half owned by a different entity.

Side Rant: I HATE that there are so many sub-subscriptions. Amazon Prime is nearly useless as a subscription on its own for movies and television. Anytime I find something I want to watch, there’s a sub-subscription I have to buy in order to watch it. I don’t think I’ve watched anything from Amazon in years. The last time I wanted to watch Poirot, I had to subscribe to two different subs. I did the trial for each in order to watch the series before cancelling, but it was annoying as fuck. Here’s the thing. I don’t watch much TV or movies in general so I don’t want to have to pay ten bucks to watch one movie or TV show.

Anyway. I’ve been thinking about this because someone in the weekend thread on Ask A Manager asked for people’s favorite adaptations and least-favorite. Several people mentioned Poirot, much to my surprise, and how they thought David Suchet was the perfect Poirot. That’s not as surprising because he embodies Poirot. So much so that the one time I heard Suchet doing the audiobook version of Death on the Nile,  I couldn’t get over his very British accent.

I proposed a moratorium on British Poirot movies for more than one reason. First, David Suchet is Poirot. Period. Full stop. No one can do it better. Second, there is a lot of racism and classism in the stories. In the novels as well as the movies. Lower-class people are portrayed as slovenly, violent, loud, coarse, etc. People from Asian countries are portrayed as sly, inscrutable, untrustworthy, etc. And, what would be unforgivable now, the people of other ethnicities are just British actors with bad accents and bad makeup.

The Big Four is my favorite Poirot book and it’s rife with racist portrayals. Or at least national stereotypes. *Spoilers* for a really old book. I like the shock of Poirot dying in it and experiencing the grief through Hastings. Then, the appearance of Poirot’s twin brother! Shock number two! And, yes, it’s a tired old trope, but still a jolt to the system. And then, masssssssive spoiler, the twin turns out to be Poirot after all and he faked his own death to get the Big Four off his back.

I once argued in my MA (Writing & Consciousness) class while we were coming up with our own top 100 novels of all time list for the inclusion of The Big Four. It was partly because I hate the snobbery that genre novels received at the time. Mystery novels could not be real literature, no matter how well-written they were. That has changed now, obviously, but this was over twenty years ago. It was also because it’s my favorite Agatha Christie novel, just slightly ahead of Curtain, the final Poirot novel. It’s exciting and full of surprises. It moves along at a brisk pace, and it never falters.

It’s emotional for reasons mentioned above. And when it turns out that Poirot planned it all himself, well, the shock and betrayal, the hurt and the pain in Hastings’ voice (and face), it’s everything. Hastings cannot understand why Poirot didn’t tell him and Poirot has to find a way to gently lie to him about the reason. Well, not lie, exactly, but downplay the reason. He talks about Hastings open nature, but what he really means is that Hastings cannot lie to save his life. His face is an open book and can be read by even a child. Poirot knew that if he were to bring in Hastings, Hastings would not be able to keep it a secret. Poirot was kind in making it out to be a positive trait when he really viewed it as a flaw.

Poirot had no problems with lying if it got him what he wanted. He was a finicky man in many ways, but hewing to the truth was not one of them. To him, the ends did justify the means and if he had to break a few eggs to make an omelet, so be it.

One of my favorite sayings by him is something he said when Hastings chastised him for being too boastful about his own abilities. Poirot said (and I’m paraphrasing), “I would admire a man who had my brains. I would say what a great man he is. So why should I not say the same about me?” He also pointed out that he was not going to do the British thing of profuse false modesty, which I appreciated. I think it was Death in the Clouds, but I’m not sure. It helped me become more assertive about my own positives rather than downplay them. No, I’m not as bombastic as he is, but he’s right. I would admire someone who could write the way I did. If someone else were as emotionally intelligent as I was, then I would be awed by it.

Not to say that I should be pompous and boast about myself. Poirot is OTT, obviously, so I would never go as far as he does. But that little bit of brilliance (which, if I’ve made up in my own mind in some kind of Nelson Mandela effect, I salute myself) has really changed my outlook.

It’s funny. I haven’t read the books in at least a decade or watched the series in probably half a decade or so. But any time I think about it, I’m right back there again. I want to read all the stories and watch all the episodes/movies. I know the problems with the novels and the movies, but I still adore them. I hold them in a very special place in my heart, and there is a warmness that I feel whenever they come up. I think it’s possible to be aware of the problems in a piece of art and still think it’s brilliant. As I said, I would not want yet another British version of the novels, but I would be hyped for A Belgian interpretation. We can but hope.

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