“Do you know the feeling you have when you know something quite well and yet for the life of you can’t recollect it?”
Oh, wow! After my first Westmacott novel, Giant’s Bread, I was really dreading Unfinished Portrait, but what a masterpiece of human psychology, human frailty and the unexpected journey that life has in store for all of us!
The novel begins on an island where a successful portrait painter meets a young woman who is ready to take her own life. Through speaking with her, he learns of her childhood and marriage and both the humorous and tragic circumstances that slowly led her to where she is that day.
First, the woman, Celia, speaks of her idyllic childhood that awoke the dreamer in her and her two adored parents, in particular, her mother. Her father’s death around her eleventh year reduced her mother’s living circumstances but they always kept their old home that was such a joy and comfort to Celia.
With Grannie, her father’s mother, as additional support, Celia attempts to navigate life, yet her fanciful and sometimes impractical nature, at times blinds her to the reality directly in front of her. Having a bevy of marriage proposals, Celia finally chooses a steady and kind, yet indolent young man, Peter, but throws him over for a dashing, young, up-and-coming soldier, Dermot. Dermot is obviously narcissistic and cares only for himself and his own needs but Celia, in her love for him, generously overlooks his faults and attempts to be a model wife for him, molded by Dermot’s at times caustic comments and childish fits, rarely resisting any of his unreasonable observations or requests. Initially, they are close, and have a girl, Judy, together, but gradually Dermot makes a life of his own and Celia is left wondering what happened. Their life together erodes and with tragic circumstance, Celia is so broken by Dermot’s betrayal, she wonders if she can go on.
This is the Unfinished Portrait of not only the life of Celia, but the life of Christie herself, a near perfect portrayal of her own experiences. With the impending breakdown of her own marriage, Christie mysteriously disappeared for 10 days, causing an international stir. She never directly spoke of her breakdown and this book is the closest we get to the truth and her reasons for her disappearance.
While the novel is called semi-autobiographical, no clearer portrait of Agatha’s childhood and first marriage has ever been painted. And paint, she does, with masterful yet often delicate brush-strokes, drawing the reader in with words, emotions and empathy. The novel ends with the hope of a new start, but as we know now, Christie remarried Max Mallowan, a prominent archaeologist and had a happy, eventful and fulfilling life with him. Which, after reading this “novel”, I think no one deserved more! An enlightening and interesting read!
⇐ Murder on the Orient Express The Listerdale Mystery ⇒
Wow! I have been neglecting all Mary Westmacott’s books after my unsuccessful attempt with Giant’s Bread. But now I think I need to read this one, at least.
Thanks for your great review. Cleo! 🙂
You just have to read it, Fanda. It is so personal and so well done. I certainly feel like I know Chrisite much more after reading this one. And yes, Giant’s Bread is just terrible, IMO, so you’re not alone!
This does sound good–and better than Giant’s Bread! I still haven’t read any Westmacott novels and didn’t seem likely your last review. (Though I did notice Jean liked at least one.) I’ll have to keep an eye out for this one.
This was soooooooo much better than Giant’s Bread and so worth reading. Very personal and one could tell it was written from the heart. If her first husband was indeed even half like Dermot, she has my complete sympathy.
I’ll have to find which one Jean liked ….. I can’t remember but if it’s a different one, I have another Westmacott to look forward to!
A Daughter’s a Daughter was a psychological study in some ways but this one with the parallels to AC’s own life sounds as if she got it right this time. I’d been a bit put off her Wescott novels after reading A Daughter.
Yes, I was put off Westmacott after reading Giant’s Bread but this one is excellent!!
Interesting!!! I really don’t know much about Agatha Christie herself, so this would be pretty illuminating, I bet. Even though it is fictionalized.
BTW, I tagged you with The Bookworm Tag. Play if you want to!
Thanks for the tag! It’s actually a relief because I have so many reviews in-process and this tag is actually something I feel I can do and get posted.