Classics: “And then there were none”

Ten little nigger boys went out to dine; 
One choked his little self, and then there were nine. [1]

Someone I’m sure will turn up their noses because I put a crime story among the great classics of literature! But it is time that the purists open their eyes and realise that if it is the most widely read genre in the world there will be a reason, and that if they do not believe their contemporaries should admit that this little Christie’s masterpiece has nothing to be envied to today’s thrillers and noir, indeed it should be taken as an example because in its simplicity and continuous suspense is truly a hypnotic and splendid book, but it is in fact a classic given the vastness of reworkings, re-releases, re-editions and quotes!

Nine little nigger boys sat up very late; 
One overslept himself, and then there were eight. [2]

 
And then there were none[3] in my opinion has earned the place in the ranking of “books to read at least once in life” and if the classicists do not agree, well I am sorry for them. The first time I approached this text was with a theatrical adaptation, and I was enchanted, fascinated, so bewitched that I went to look for every form of television edition, and only in the end I persuaded myself to read it in its original form. This is an unusual process for me, but it was necessary because I was still quite young and the writing style of Christie at that time was a bit difficult for me, with the constant changes of perspectives, in fact since the trip to Sticklehaven and Indian Island, narrated in the first chapter, we move from one character to another analysing their thoughts and reflections.

Eight little nigger boys traveling in Devon; 
One said he’d stay there, and then there were seven.
Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks; 
One chopped himself in half, and then there were six. [4]


All the characters have something to hide and everyone feels likewise guilty and innocent at the same time even in their own thoughts. So entering into their minds increases suspense. Only when I grew up and I acquired a slightly broader cultural baggage I felt ready to read it without filters of images (theatrical or cinematographic). As always, the original version is the best! I completely deep myself in the perverse game predicted by the nursery rhyme, and although I already knew the sequence of the dead and the resolution, I found myself captured by the narrative. Among other things, I was also surprised because the ending of the novel is different from the theatrical’s and some of the most famous transpositions.
So I still had my “twist”.

Six little nigger boys playing with a hive; 
A bumble-bee stung one, and then there were five.
Five little nigger boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were four. [5]

 


The leitmotif of the nursery rhyme – made up of a series of riddles that enigmatically prophesises the way in which all the guests will be killed – is obsessive and when you put the book on the bedside table to relax or when you stop reading to resume your everyday life it keeps echoing in your head.

 

Four little nigger boys
going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one
and then there were Three.[6]


No one can trust anyone, everyone suspects everyone: the only certainty left is death, but we do not know exactly when or how it will come. Each of the ten has done in the past, something that has caused the death of another person. The feelings of guilt will be different for each of the characters. Everyone will self-sufficiently estimate their skeleton in the closet. This is the part that I liked the most, the autonomy of each story and at the same time the need to connect them all. Ten little Indians is a masterful example of a “closed camera enigma”, the end, the resolution of everything, is not at all obvious, and the reader repeatedly in the progression of the reading finds himself having to divert his suspicions on another of the characters.

Three little nigger boys
walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one
and then there were Two.[7]


Why did I choose this as a representative of all Christie books? Because in the stories of Miss Marple and Poirot someone is there to discover the secret, and this gives you a sense of trust and support, allowing you to predict what is about to happen … In this book not even one comes to save you, categorically nobody comes to help you or explain the mystery, but in this crime you perceive that sense of disease and you start coming to the point that something hostile will happen.

I sincerely recommend this book to anyone, because even those who do not love detective stories will certainly enjoy the skill with which Christie marks the characters and sets, creating a unique and incomparable spectacle.

You will be wondering which of the ten guests will be next to be removed from the list, how and why, until you reach the final page you will not be able to stop reading, and I’m sure there will be an irrational desire to see the television and / or theatrical transpositions!!!

 

Two little nigger boys
sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up
and then there was One.[8]

 


In the end, everything goes as it was written to go. The mystery will be solved in a very unusual way, just as the whole story was unusual. But a doubt remains: was justice really done?

 

One little nigger boy
left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself
and then there were None.[9]

 
Ten little Indians is not just a classic, it’s not just a great novel, but it’s a creation that is addictive, and luckily there are always new, brilliant, versions of it ….

 

 


[1] From the book.
[2] From the book.
[3] The novel was originally published in late 1939 and early 1940 almost simultaneously, in the United Kingdom and the United States. In the UK it appeared under the title Ten Little Niggers, in book and newspaper serialized formats. The serialization was in 23 parts in the Daily Express from Tuesday 6 June to Saturday 1 July 1939. All of the instalments carried an illustration by “Prescott” with the first having an illustration of Burgh Island in Devon which inspired the setting of the story. The serialized version did not contain any chapter divisions. The book retailed for seven shillings and six pence. In the United States it was published under the title And Then There Were None, again in both book and serial formats. Both of the original US publications changed the title from that originally used in the UK, due to the offensiveness of the word in American culture, where it was more widely perceived as a racially loaded ethnic slur or insult compared to contemporary UK culture, rather than a fairly innocent rhyme for children to use when selecting one child for a game. The serialized version appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in seven parts from 20 May (Volume 211, Number 47) to 1 July 1939 (Volume 212, Number 1) with illustrations by Henry Raleigh, and the book was published in January 1940 by Dodd, Mead and Company for $2.
In the original UK novel all references to “Indians” or “Soldiers” were originally “Nigger”, including the island’s name, the pivotal rhyme found by the visitors, and the ten figurines. (In Chapter 7, Vera Claythorne becomes semi-hysterical at the mention by Miss Brent of “our black brothers”, which is understandable only in the context of the original name.) UK editions changed to the current definitive title in 1985. The word “nigger” was already racially offensive in the United States by the start of the 20th century, and therefore the book’s first US edition and first serialization changed the title to And Then There Were None and removed all references to the word from the book, as did the 1945 motion picture.
[4] From the book.
[5] From the book.
[6] From the book.
[7] From the book.
[8] From the book.
[9] From the book.

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