Yours truly is back with yet another review of a novel by Dame Agatha Christie, my favourite English authoress. Today I am presenting the review of ‘The Hollow’ which was first published in 1946.
The title refers to the venue of the story where the murder which is the basis of this mystery, takes place. The Hollow is the place owned by the Angkatell family containing Sir Henry Angkatell, his wife Lucy Angkatell and their relatives – Edward Angkatell and David Angkatell. It’s a spacious house with natural environment surrounding it. A plantation as well as a swimming pool is attached to it.The main story starts with a get-together arranged at the weekend by the Angkatells at The Hollow, i.e., their residence in which other than the Angkatells, the people involved are Ms. Midge Hardcastle, a distant cousin of Lucy Angkatell who works in a garment shop; Ms. Henrietta Savernake, a sculptor and an old family friend; Dr. John Christow, a doctor who, in addition to running his clinic, is doing research on finding cure of a lethal disease called Ridgeway’s Disease; Mrs. Gerda Christow, wife of Dr. John Christow and finally, Hercule Poirot, the world famous Belgian detective. The Christow family has arrived at The Hollow for the weekend get-together all the way from Harley Street leaving its children – Terence (son) and Zena (daughter) behind.
But the weekend party gets interrupted by the sudden entry of an unexpected guest named Ms. Veronica Cray who is an actress of Hollywood movies and the old flame of Dr. John Christow. They were engaged but John did not want Veronica to act in the movies which was not possible for her and hence the engagement got broken. Veronica gatecrashes the party at night and tries to interact with her ex-beau John whom she is meeting after a long gap of 15 years. However now John is not the least interested in her because he is happily married with Gerda and also because of one more well-known but unexpressed fact that he’s in love with Henrietta Savarnake, the sculptor. Scorned by him, Veronica threatens him when they meet for the last time in the wee hours of the next day at Veronica’s current residence a few yards away from The Hollow.
Agatha Christie’s brain-child – the world famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot who’s staying at an accommodation a little far from The Hollow but relatively near to the residence of Veronica, was invited for the lunch and when he arrives there via the route containing the swimming pool outside the house, he is taken aback to see that a man is lying on the brink of the swimming pool with blood running out of his body and falling into the water of the pool. He also sees that a woman is standing above his body with a revolver in her hand. Poirot feels that this scene is less real and more something like that of a theatre-play deliberately staged for the audience. But the fact is that the person has actually been shot and he is dying. Before Poirot could do anything after reaching him, he utters his last word in a completely audible tone –‘Henrietta’. And then he dies immediately. The shot dead person is Dr. John Christow and the lady standing above him with the revolver in her hand is his wife Mrs. Gerda Christow.
Further, before Poirot could take charge of the situation of the murder that has just got completed in front of his eyes, Henrietta rushes to the scene, takes the revolver from the hand of Gerda and starts consoling her. When Poirot complains to her that she should not have handled the firearm which might be the murder weapon, she allows the revolver to slip from her hand and fall into the water of the swimming pool. It appears that Gerda only has shot her husband with that revolver. But when the police investigation under the stewardship of Inspector Grange starts, facts telling a different story start coming out. The ballistic report of the bullet and the revolver found tell that the bullet was not fired by that revolver. The murder weapon is found after some time from nowhere else than Poirot’s own residence.
Who killed Dr. John who’s apparently a very noble person with almost no enemies in the world ? The climax reveals the entire suspense and bares the face of the murderer to Poirot but not to the world because Poirot allows the truth to remain concealed forever. However he vows to tell it to the very curious kid of the victim – Terrence when he has grown up.
The Hollow is a cobweb of relationships. There are only a few reasons for anybody to murder a particular person. In The Hollow, the murder does not take place for the sake of wealth or property or revenge. The reason for the murder lies somewhere in the complexities of relationships, especially the male-female relationships which are sometimes created ones and sometimes developed on their own, in the natural way.
In my review of Preeti-Katha, I have asserted that male-female love is the biggest mystery of the world which none has been able to solve and none is likely to be able to solve in the future. Why some particular one falls in love with another particular one, is something nobody can perfectly understand and therefore nobody can perfectly interpret or explain. In The Hollow, the seasoned authoress has also dealt with this issue but at the same time, she has also dealt with the issue of husband-wife relationship. A husband and a wife may not be loving each other in their respective hearts but still they pull together for the sake of family bliss, for the sake of their children, for the sake of the family honour etc. Even when the husband does not feel romantically attracted to his wife, the devoted wife has a far greater value in his life than another female who is romantically attractive for him. Similarly a wife may not feel her husband as loving or appreciative, still she may be completely devoted to him because of the learning deep-seated in her subconscious and also because he is the father of her children.
But there are some more issues that are relevant in the context of husband-wife relationship: 1. A non-loving husband or wife may still be caring for the life-partner, 2. There is a limit to one’s tolerance in the marital life despite all the devotion and adjustment made and the bubble may burst any day even at the slightest provocation or an unconfirmed suspicion, 3. Anything can prove to be an eye-opener for the marital partner any time during the course of life and he / she may change himself / herself for the better since then.
“Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned”, asserted William Congreve, the English playwright in his play – The Mourning Bride. The authoress has also highlighted it through the character of Veronica. Yes, there are ladies who want men’s love completely on their own terms without making any adjustment or sacrifice from their side.
And finally, love ! Agatha Christie has got name and fame through her mysteries. However she was a romantic lady also who wrote romantic novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott. Amidst confusions, misunderstandings, clarifications and eye-openings of the characters; genuine love also blossoms in the story – somewhere to get its due and somewhere to mourn its ill-fate. And a genuine lover is ever ready to do anything for the beloved even without getting anything in return.
The authoress always had a fancy for a psychological basis of her stories and The Hollow is no exception. She has dived deep into the mindsets of different characters of this story and delved them like anything. And the result is marvellous just like a diver’s coming out of the depth of the ocean with invaluable pearls in his fist.
An invaluable pearl (that is, a lesson for life) out of these is that never tag a person as moron or dumb or simpleton just because he / she is submissive by nature and does not argue over things. Naivety may not always be real. It may be the camouflage of an extraordinarily smart person who may pretend to be naive to hide his / her real character behind that.
The only minus point that can be found in this novel by those who (like me) are fans of the extremely popular Belgian detective Hercule Poirot is that his presence in the novel is in a low profile, something like a guest appearance. Though he arrives at the probable solution of the mystery through his deductive reasoning, the complete truth is known to him only when he reaches the culprit by following the principal accomplice in concealing the facts and evidences and thereby misguiding the investigators. A majority of the significant scenes does not feature him.
All the same, I assert it loud and clear that The Hollow is vintage Christie. The mystery queen is at her very best in this novel. She takes her time in building up the story and developing the characters (as is her trademark style of writing) but once the real story takes off, the reader should be ready to experience shocks intermittently until the final and the severest shock is rendered to him / her in the climax when the veil is taken off the face of the killer. After the revelation, the novel contains two more scenes. The penultimate scene is inspirational as well as touching whereas the ending scene is able to move any loving heart deep within leaving an indelible imprint on that.
This more than 350 pages long novel is a treat to read for the mystery fans and also for those who are fond of reading love stories.
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