Two Classics: “Caligula” by Suetonius and “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

I hardly do mini reviews, but I find it fitting for these books since I don’t have much to say on either one. Both were quick reads. Caligula understandably so since it’s an excerpt of Robert Graves’s translation of Suetonius’s The Twelve Caesars and is only about 58 pages. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is longer at 265 pages, but is simply an entertaining read and I haven’t much to say on it.

Caligula

Caligula

…was a crazy-ass dude. Whenever I confess to certain people that I want to read The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius, they reply with a surprised Why?? Why would I want to read about such horrible things? One of my few reader friends often asks me this whenever I mention the book because she was unable to stomach the contents of the book when she first attempted to read it.

The Twelve Caesars is the biography of the first caesars of the Roman Empire. In that way, it details the beginning of the empire and its decline. I believe it was in Michael Dirda’s Classics for Pleasure that I first heard of this book and had my interest in it piqued. In that mention, I believe it was said that The Twelve Caesars was the first sensational publication, like a gossip column or People magazine series. Suetonius pokes into the rulers’ lives and lets loose all the dirty bits and that’s what my nosy butt is interested in.

But every time I attempt to acquire this book, I always pick up or name the wrong thing — The Histories by Herodotus. I don’t know why I keep confusing it with that book and now that I’ve seen the huge tome that The Histories is and have attempted to read it and failed miserably, I don’t think it’s one I’ll read in this lifetime. As for my reading experience with this excerpt of The Twelve Caesars, I picked it up in April because I was restless in my reading and read it on my visit to Politics & Prose, an indie bookstore in D.C., for the first time where I spent 4 hours lost in their selection of books. I was so close to purchasing The Twelve Caesars on that visit.

But what did I surmise after reading Caligula, you wonder? Well, Caligula was one crazy dude and I would not want him as my ruler. He was so damn unpredictable. I believe his madness was due to his sever insomnia and his fiddling with poisons. He must have inadvertently poisoned himself at some point, or the poisons must have affected him in some way. And he must have hallucinated a lot due to his sever insomnia.

I liked how easy the text is to read. It’s not relayed in a matter-of-fact way as history textbooks are, but is almost told like a story, or rather it’s written like how memoirs as written. Not only that, but the author also includes his opinions in the text, thus emphasizing how subjective it is to relay what occurred in the past. I prefer that to people trying to be objective about relaying historical occurences to others. I think it’s better to just admit that whatever you disclose will be subjective whether you consciously try to alter how you relay the events or not. Anyways, off topic.

Overall: ★★★☆☆ 1/2

The bit I read was interesting and made me want to read the rest of the book, but it was too short. I like how it’s written and that piqued my interest in the rest of the work.

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express

“It’s the psychology I seek, not the fingerprint or the cigarette ash.”

…which sums up how Hercule Poirot goes about solving the mysteries in Agatha Christie’s novels. In The Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot is faced with solving a murder by a murderer who doesn’t seem to exist. There are too many clues too conveniently placed so he must analyze the passengers’ personalities and mannerisms instead.

This was my first Agatha Christie novel, and the first in a long time that I borrowed a physical book from the library. I didn’t even know they stopped stamping them!! I miss the stamping.

The novel is a quick, entertaining read that I found appealing because Poirot relies heavily on psychology to solve the mystery, though I also find him too discerning to be believed. As twisty as the mystery is at times, it seemed to me that the clues were perfectly laid for Poirot to solve them. It’s as if the murderer wants to be caught by him. And the way it was all resolved was too neat for my liking. It seemed more like an act. A simple, forced murder for Poirot to solve to occupy the reader for a time.

The story is plot-driven and advances quickly. I like that we are often led to false conclusions about who the murderer could be and I barely solved it before the answer was revealed. That’s how I see mysteries, by the way, as a puzzle I must solve before the answer is revealed but it mustn’t be too easy. However, though I find mysteries fun to read sometimes, they make me too anxious and usually I have to skip to the end and read what happens before I complete the story because I can’t stand the anticipation of what’s to come. I didn’t do that with this novel, though, because the build-up wasn’t that high. The story is evenly paced.

One thing I liked about the novel is how the characters regard people of different countries. They stereotype them but I find that fitting because I believe that’s how people of that time were, and that’s how people still are (not saying that it’s right to stereotype but just that Christie accurately represented how people easily judge others based on appearance). I got the impression, also, that Americans weren’t much favored then either. They were admired for being progressive, but criticized for their idealism, sentimentality, and lack of tact in certain situations.

Overall: ★★★☆☆

An entertaining read but the resolution was too neat for my liking. Still, I’d like to try other novels by Agatha Christie. I like how evenly paced this one is so I didn’t fanatically race to the end or spoil myself about who the murderer is.

There were a lot of French words in the story with little context clues to indicate what they mean. I assumed, while reading, that it’s similar to Jane Eyre here that back then well-learned people who would read such novels would be familiar with more than one language and wouldn’t have difficulty discerning what the French words mean. Well, I’m in the — what century is this?… — 21st century, the year 2016, to be precise, and all I know is English, a dialect, and a smattering of Spanish so I didn’t understand any of them French words. But, when in a bind, there is Google to the rescue. And in this case, Google Translate.

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9 thoughts on “Two Classics: “Caligula” by Suetonius and “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie

  1. Pingback: 2016 Reading Wrap-Up: Second Quarter | Zezee with Books

    • Christie’s book does seem suited for that. It was such a quick, easy read.
      Yes! Grab some of them. I like how the black classics look when stacked together.
      And Penguin just came out with a new set of classics. I forgot what the set is called but they are color-coded according to the language they were originally written in.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “I didn’t even know they stopped stamping them!!” – Ahaha yeah it’s been a while! I miss those days too. Christie mysteries are my comfort reads! Definitely read more by her! And try her Miss Marple books (The Body in the Library) and Tuppence & Tommy sorta spy/adventure books (The Secret Adversary). The only caveat is that in some of her works, she adds non-white European characters and urgh the antisemitism sucks!

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    • Yea! I guess they kept running out of ink or something. I sure used to stamp random things just to stamp something.
      A friend of mine who also likes Agatha Christie recommended the Miss Marple books too. I’ll try those too. I guess her books are comfort reads. It was just sweet. A simple, good story.
      Yeah, I can see that being in her work from how the characters in Orient Express are and how they criticize others of different backgrounds.

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