For some reason, I always thought that the novels Agatha Christie wrote as Mary Westmacott were romance novels. Absent in the Spring, however, is a character study with an edge, reminding me more of some of the novels of Elizabeth Taylor.
Middle-aged Joan Scudamore gets stranded for several days at a guest house on her way from Baghdad to London. Before this happens, there is a revealing encounter between her and an old school friend, Blanche Haggard. Joan is judgmental toward Blanche, thinks she looks old and untidy and blames her appearance on the unfortunate choices she has made in life. Blanche cheerfully admits her bad choices but says she has enjoyed her life. She also hints at something about Joan’s daughter Barbara. We realize we like Blanche more than Joan.
During the five days Joan is stranded, she begins reconsidering her self-satisfied attitude, realizing some truths about herself and her family that she has hidden from herself. It is clear to the reader that she has bullied her husband and children, but she sees her behavior as doing her best for them. She thinks she has helped them to happy lives, but she has tried to make them all do what she thinks is right.
The big question is whether Joan can change her attitude. Let’s just say the novel is much more in the Realism school than Christie’s mysteries.
And by the way, let me just state my objection to this book being relabeled under Christie’s name. On the cover of my edition, the Christie name is more noticeable than Westmacott. Although I see no harm in acknowledging somewhere that they’re the same person, this is a marketing ploy that I don’t agree with. She wrote the book under the name Westmacott, so that should be the predominant name.