Book of the Month

Book of the Month: Unfinished Portrait


Bereft of the three people she has held most dear - her mother, her husband and her daughter - Celia is on the verge of suicide. Then one night on an exotic island she meets Larraby, a successful portrait painter, and through a long night of talk reveals how she is afraid to commit herself to a second chance of happiness with another person, yet is not brave enough to face life alone. Can Larraby help Celia come to terms with the past or will they part, her outcome still uncertain?

Moving away from the detective novels she was known for, in 1930 Agatha Christie started tackling crimes of the heart in six bittersweet novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. In An Autobiography, Christie remembers having ‘a rather guilty feeling’ when she wrote Giant’s Bread, the first novel under the pen-name; a decision made after she had the desire to write something other than a detective novel.

Unfinished Portrait was the second of the six novels under the pen-name and was first published in 1934. It’s considered to be a semi-autobiographical novel and, as her daughter Rosalind Hicks said, it “relied a lot on her own experiences and early life,” with many of the themes in the book relating to incidents in Christie's own life. It is thought that the two principal characters in the book, Celia and Dermot, derive from Agatha and her first husband Archie. Her second husband, Max Mallowan, even referred to the female character saying, "in Celia we have more nearly than anywhere else a portrait of Agatha."

A study of a shy, emotional nature, verging on the pathological...worth reading.
New York Times

Discover more about Agatha Christie's pseudonym, Mary Westmacott.

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