Review: And Then There Were None

10 strangers on a remote island get murdered one by one, in a variety of horrible ways. Merry Christmas!

It’s true that a BBC adaptation of Agatha Christie’s best-selling thriller might not be particularly festive, but And Then There Were None was still far and away the best thing on TV this Christmas. And not only because of Aidan Turner’s towel. Although that was a big part of it.

Considering And Then There Were None is not only Agatha Christie’s most popular book but the best-selling mystery novel in the world ever, I’m a bit surprised I’ve never read it. But I did see a stage version earlier this year, and figured I’d got all the tension out of my system during those two nail-biting hours. So when I heard it was going to be on TV this Christmas, I assumed that without the stress of worrying about what was going to happen next, I’d be able to sit back, relax and look for clues, safe and smug in the knowledge of whodunnit.

And Then There Were None

Unfortunately, there’s literally nothing relaxing about this chilling murder mystery. Even the opening credits are dark and super creepy. And once you get a look at that island, in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a forbidding, lonely mansion on it, there’s no going back. Bad things are going to happen, and just because you know they’re coming, it doesn’t make them any easier to watch – particularly because they’re all accompanied by scary music and lingering silences, during which the characters all eye each other suspiciously in the semi-darkness (because of course there’s a three-day thunderstorm and everything has to be done by candlelight). Oh, and did I mention the poem, which predicts – sometimes rather cryptically – the method of each murder, and the ten figurines that disappear one by one as the characters meet their end? Nothing freaky about that…

As in the stage version, all the actual murdering has to take place off camera, so we don’t learn the identity of the culprit before the final big reveal. But that doesn’t make it any less tense – sure, it’s not ‘is the killer about to jump out of that wardrobe’ scary, but somehow ‘when will we trip over the next dead body, and who will it be’ is just as bad. And while some of the characters manage only a handful of lines before being bumped off, it’s hard not to get a bit attached to some of the others, even while knowing that the whole reason they’re on the island is because they’re bad people – and if they do survive, chances are it’s because they dunnit. (Not to mention the fact that the longer they last, the more unhinged they all become.)

While Poldark star Aidan Turner may be getting most of the attention in the press, because of that totally unnecessary but nonetheless very enjoyable scene, he’s just one member of a truly stellar cast that includes Charles Dance (a legend long before he was Tywin Lannister), Miranda Richardson, Sam Neill, Anna Maxwell Martin and Toby Stephens. And it’s not just about the big names; relative unknown Maeve Dermody was cast just two days before the first read through of the script, but you’d never know it from her haunting performance as Vera Claythorne. The adaptation is very much an ensemble effort, with each of the actors getting their turn in the spotlight as, one by one, the characters’ secrets are revealed through dialogue and flashbacks.

Each episode carries a warning of upsetting scenes, which is a message I’ve learnt to take very seriously since that infamous episode of Downton Abbey left us all scarred for life. And although there’s not a lot of gore in And Then There Were None, there is plenty to disturb and mess with your head. It’s a classic murder mystery of the best kind, which keeps you guessing throughout with its twists and turns and surprises.

Also, Aidan Turner in a towel. Thank you, BBC.

Aidan Turner in And Then There Were None

And Then There Were None is available on BBC iPlayer if you missed it. But I don’t recommend watching it late at night. Particularly if you’re home alone during a thunderstorm, and the power’s gone out. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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10 valuable life lessons I learnt from The BFG

So who wants to come and see The BFG with me next year?

I’ll admit I had my doubts when I heard there was going to be a new movie version of Roald Dahl’s book. I even seem to vaguely remember threatening Steven Spielberg with – if not exactly violence, then certainly a strongly worded letter, if he messed up one of my favourite stories of all time.

Then I heard that the brilliant Mark Rylance had been cast as the BFG, and I felt a bit better. And now that the first teaser trailer’s been released, I could not be more excited.

The BFG was my absolute favourite book growing up, and when I re-read it recently, it brought back all kinds of happy memories, of belly poppers, snozzcumbers and gobblefunking around with words. The story of a lonely little girl and the kind-hearted giant who kidnaps her never fails to make me smile, even if it is accompanied by quite a lot of other children being eaten alive. But hey, you can’t have everything.

So I thought it was only right to share a few of the valuable life lessons I learnt from The BFG, starting with…The BFG by Roald Dahl

  1. If in doubt, ask The Queen. Because she can solve anything.
  2. Frobscottle is the best drink in the world: ‘”Whenever I is feeling a bit scrotty,” the BFG said, “a few gollops of frobscottle is always making me hopscotchy again.”‘
  3. Turkish people taste of turkey, people from Panama of hats, Swedes of sweet and sour, and people from Wales taste like fish.
  4. Humans are the only animals that kill our own kind: ‘”Even poisnowse snakes is never killing each other,” the BFG said. “Nor is the most fearsome creatures like tigers and rhinostossterisses. None of them is ever killing their own kind… But human beans is squishing each other all the time… They is shootling guns and going up in aerioplanes to drop their bombs on each other’s heads every week. Human beans is always killing other human beans.”‘
  5. Nicholas Nickleby (by Dahl’s Chickens) is a scrumdiddlyumptious story.
  6. Always go to bed before the witching hour, or who knows what you might encounter: The witching hour, somebody had once whispered to her, was a special moment in the middle of the night when every child and every grown-up was in a deep deep sleep, and all the dark things came out from hiding and had the world all to themselves.’
  7. Two wrongs don’t make a right. And two rights don’t make a left.
  8. Whizzpopping is a sign of happiness. (If you don’t know what whizzpopping is, think brussels sprouts…)
  9. Just because you don’t know a lot of big words doesn’t mean you’re stupid; you might end up saving the world: ‘I know exactly what words I am wanting to say, but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around.’
  10. The human bean is not a vegetable.

So there we have it.

What was your favourite book growing up?

Wait, what? 10 books with brilliant twists

So there I was this morning, on my way to work, reading my book without a care in the world. A little under halfway through, I’d concluded that I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh was well-written, but not as gripping as I’d expected; it was good, I’d decided, but not great.

And then there was a twist.

Perhaps other people saw it coming, but I totally didn’t. The bombshell came so completely out of the blue that I literally exclaimed out loud, and gave the man next to me a little fright. And as soon as I knew about it, I realised I should have realised all along – but somehow I let myself get totally led down the wrong path because of one massive and incorrect assumption.

I love a good twist. For me, the perfect book is one where you think you know what’s going to happen – maybe you’re even a bit disappointed at the apparent predictability of the story – and then suddenly, everything turns completely on its head, and you have to re-evaluate everything you’ve just read. And then you find yourself starting the book again from scratch just so you can look for clues – which, of course, seem blindingly obvious second time around, and you wonder how you could possibly have missed them.

Twists like this, by the way, are really hard to write; I tried to get one into my (as yet unedited) NaNoWriMo novel last year, and because I knew what the secret was, it felt like I was dropping really obvious hints all over the place. Unfortunately I can’t tell you if that’s true or not, because so far I haven’t let anyone read it…

Anyway, it’s no surprise that some of my favourite books are ones with huge twists in them. Here are a selection (don’t panic, I’ll keep it spoiler-free) – if I’ve missed any that you think I need to read, let me know in the comments 🙂

Gone Girl

I read Gone Girl before it was a movie, but by the time I got around to picking up Gillian Flynn’s best-seller, it was already a pretty major sensation. So I’m surprised I managed to avoid this particular twist, and, even though I was pretty sure the story couldn’t be quite as simple as it was making out, I still didn’t see the truth coming. It’s a seriously messed-up book, but well worth a read if you like to be surprised (and, obviously, if you haven’t already seen the movie).

Rebecca

Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novel is a beautifully crafted story that puts us inside the mind of an insecure heroine (so much so that we never even find out her name) who’s easily led to the wrong conclusion, and takes us along with her. The difference is that this twist, while certainly surprising, isn’t as devastating as many others; in contrast, it takes the story in a new, more optimistic direction, whilst still maintaining almost unbearable levels of suspense.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

The Devil’s Teardrop

Best-selling thriller writer Jeffery Deaver is known for including at least one major plot twist in his novels, to the point where, after a while, you start to look for them. (Once I was convinced I’d spotted the vital clue, and was furious when I realised it was just a typo and had no bearing on the story at all.) The Devil’s Teardrop is the first Deaver novel that I read, about fifteen years ago, and I remember being totally blown away by the shock revelation towards the end. So though it may not be his best twist, it’ll always be my favourite.

Atonement

This is one of my top books of all time, and, to my surprise, I even loved the movie adaptation (I usually don’t). Because its characters are so beautifully drawn, you soon start to really care about them, and the shock conclusion, which – again – you feel you should have seen coming, is so perfectly written that you can almost forgive Ian McEwan for it. Almost.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

We Were Liars

I discovered this young adult novel, by E. Lockhart, a few months ago, and when I finished it, I really did almost flip right back to the start and read it all over again. (I didn’t, but I will at some point.) What’s so brilliant about this book is that you know from the start that you’re dealing with an unreliable narrator – it’s right there in the title, after all – and yet you still don’t realise what’s really going on until it’s all over. I’m not ashamed to say this one prompted another train exclamation. Maybe I should start warning people who sit next to me…

Shutter Island

Long before it was a Leo DiCaprio movie, this was one of the best thrillers I’d ever read, with a conclusion I’d never have predicted. Dennis Lehane’s novel is reminiscent of a classic Agatha Christie mystery, in which a woman seems to have vanished without trace from an institution that’s surrounded by water on every side. And it uses the classic misdirection technique of telling us what to believe, knowing that we’ll do it without question instead of looking for any other explanation. A fantastic book – if you haven’t read it, you should. But maybe not on a dark, stormy night.

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

We Need To Talk About Kevin

A book I read once, and thought was brilliant, but will never read again – twist or no twist – mostly because of the traumatic eye incident (if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, you’ve been warned). Even before we get to the truth at the heart of the book, Lionel Shriver’s award-winning novel is deeply disturbing, so the final revelation is just an extension of the horror – and yet it still makes you reconsider everything that’s gone before in the light of that new information.

My Sister’s Keeper

Jodi Picoult is another author who’s known for adding a twist to her tales – usually accompanied by a courtroom exploding – but this one is particularly effective, perhaps because it’s paired with a shock ending. The well-worn device of having multiple narrators allows Picoult to disguise what’s really going on by simply switching to a new character’s voice any time we get too close to the truth. But obviously we don’t realise that at the time…

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Florence and Giles

A fabulously creepy little book by John Harding, inspired by The Turn of the Screw. It’s got all the elements you could want in a scary story: a crumbling old house, two orphaned children, an absent guardian, a violent death and a sinister governess. As the mystery deepens and the suspense builds, we’re encouraged to focus all our attention on one character, when maybe we should have been looking elsewhere. Or should we?

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Most of the Potter books have a twist in them somewhere, and my initial instinct was to go for The Goblet of Fire, which has always been my favourite of the seven. But then I remembered the final book, and the big twist in there that makes you immediately want to re-read the whole series in light of what you just found out. If you haven’t read the books yet, I won’t spoil it, and if you’re a Potter fan, I’ll just say ‘Always’ and you’ll know which bit I mean…

Did I miss anything good? Send me your suggestions of books with great twists and I’ll check them out 🙂

Wizardly wisdom: 20 Harry Potter quotes to live by

This post was inspired by one I read the other day on Flight and Scarlet, which listed three top quotes from the Harry Potter series.

Being something of a Potter geek myself, I’ve read the books many, many times (I don’t even know how many, if I’m honest – and there’s a good chance I’ll have to start them all over again in light of this post). And each time I do, I’m struck by the fact that J.K. Rowling’s creation is so much more than just a good story – although it is a fantastic story, obviously, and I still half wish it could all turn out to be true after all. Largely because I really want to know how to Apparate, so I can stop catching the train to work.

It took me a while to realise, because I was so caught up in the action of the story itself, but there are so many lessons in Harry Potter that are applicable to our Muggle world – even if our lives are a bit less exciting and dramatic. Stuff about good and evil, friendship, courage and justice. About accepting people for who they are and honouring the memory of those we’ve lost. And – perhaps most relevant of all – the importance of pulling together during dark and troubled times.

So if you’ve never read Harry Potter, maybe now’s the time to give the series a try (I know the first two books aren’t great, but trust me, from The Prisoner of Azkaban they get so good). And if you have, maybe give them another look. You may find words of wisdom you missed the first time around. And even if you don’t, at least you can enjoy looking for them.

Here are a few of my personal highlights. Did I miss any of your favourites?

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

“When in doubt, go to the library.”

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

“You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us?”

“The consequences of our actions are always so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed.”

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

“I am what I am, an’ I’m not ashamed. ‘Never be ashamed,’ my ol’ dad used ter say, ‘there’s some who’ll hold it against you, but they’re not worth botherin’ with.’”

“If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”It matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

“Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.”

“It is impossible to manufacture or imitate love.”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

“People find it far easier to forgive others for being wrong than being right.”

“It is important,” Dumbledore said, “to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then could evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated.’”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both influencing injury, and remedying it.”

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

“Perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.”

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all those who live without love.”

“We are all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”

Right. I’m off to start book 1 again…

Harry Potter quotes

Which Hogwarts house are you, and other important questions

The other day, during some training at work, a colleague and I were given a quick task to do. I think it was a simple version of a test originally devised by Carl Jung, which sorts you into four different personality types – in this case based on two criteria: how introverted/extroverted you are, and whether you make decisions based on logic or emotion.

To nobody’s surprise, I came out as ‘green’ (emotional introvert), which is the group that wants everyone to get along, even if it means not much gets done as a result. Interestingly, after the training, when we challenged the rest of the office to take the same test, it turned out I was the only one who fell in that category. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not… but hey, at least someone’s keeping it friendly.

Here’s a brief summary of the four categories – which one are you?

Yellow – sunny personality, outgoing, easily distracted, wants recognition, needs other people

Red – wants to win, dominant personality, loves a challenge, doesn’t let emotion get in the way

Green – wants harmony, calm in a crisis, indecisive, not good at confrontation

Blue – rational, analytical, likes to plan, can seem negative but just considering all angles

Read more about these categories

Anyway, this was all very interesting, and got me thinking about a few other personality tests we could have taken. And then obviously I had to take all the tests to see if I’d correctly predicted the results. Some of them were quite surprising…

Personality tests

Which Hogwarts house do you belong to?

My prediction: Hufflepuff

Result: Hufflepuff

Everyone wants to be Gryffindor, obviously – but we can’t all be, or the whole Hogwarts system would fall apart. Hufflepuff values hard work, dedication and loyalty above all else. We don’t get the glory very often, but then we don’t really want it, so that’s okay. I’m actually pretty happy with this result, because it seems there’s less chance of dying horribly (let’s not mention Cedric). And at least I didn’t get Slytherin.

Test taken: http://www.playbuzz.com/emilyz14/the-hogwarts-sorting-quiz-pottermore-version

Which Strictly Come Dancing judge are you?

Prediction: Darcey

Result: Len

Interesting – I’d assumed that I’d be Darcey, who always has something nice to say, even to the worst dancers. I know from my theatre reviewing that I always look for the positives first and foremost, and feel mean if I say anything horrible. But I can live with being Len, who’s very fair – as long as you stay on his good side and don’t totally mess up. I probably don’t talk about pickled walnuts enough… but that’s okay, I think.

Test taken: http://www.whatsontv.co.uk/node/226616/take

Which Bennet sister are you?

Prediction: Jane

Result: Elizabeth

I was so sure I’d be Jane – the nice one, who just wants everyone to be happy – that I took two different tests, and got Elizabeth both times. But I’m pretty happy with that, as she’s one of my favourite literary heroines. So if anyone needs me, I’ll be taking a turn around the room and waiting for Mr Darcy to turn up on my doorstep to declare his love. That’s how it works, right?

Tests taken: http://www.allthetests.com/quiz09/quiz/1088032658/Pride-and-Prejudice-Which-Bennet-sister-are-you and http://www.ew.com/article/2015/09/23/quiz-which-bennet-sister-are-you

Which Doctor Who are you?

Prediction: er, don’t know… David Tennant?

Result: William Hartnell (the first Doctor)

I really don’t know enough about Doctor Who to accurately predict this one, but it was on TV tonight, so I thought I’d include it. Also I have a bit of a thing for David Tennant, so I was hoping I’d get him, but no such luck. I’m not sure how I feel about my result; apparently the first doctor was difficult to get close to because he seemed kind of rude – but I like the fact that deep down he seems to have had everyone’s best interests at heart. Any Doctor Who fans able to tell me if this is a good result or not?!

Test taken: http://www.bbcamerica.com/anglophenia/2013/11/personality-quiz-doctor/

Which Friend are you?

Prediction: Chandler

Result: Phoebe

This result makes no sense at all, as Phoebe’s probably the character I identify with the least. As much as I love a bit of randomness, I’m nowhere near as impulsive or whacky as she is. And I hate singing in public. So I’m sticking to my original pick of Chandler, who’s famously risk-averse and uses humour to get out of awkward situations, which is much more my style. And hopefully it means I’ll (eventually) meet my perfect partner living right next door, fall in love and live happily ever after…

Test taken: http://www.playbuzz.com/ainhoaa10/which-friends-main-character-are-you

There’s nothing particularly scientific about any of these tests, admittedly, but they’re still fun to do, and interesting for the occasional insight 🙂 How did you do – any surprises?