Saturday, January 5, 2008

The Wisdom of Father Brown

Better late than never! I read this short story collection about a month ago, and mentioned it a little on my blog, but I never got around to doing an actual write-up.

This was my first experience with Father Brown, and Chesterton for that matter. The collection starts off with a great story, "The Absence of Mr. Glass" that basically mocks Holmes-style detective fiction. It opens with Dr. Orion Hood, "an eminent criminologist," in his study. His study is described in great detail, and every sentence reinforces Dr. Hood's extreme orderliness. I thought you guys would appreciate this passage:
Poetry was there: the left-hand corner of the room was lined with as complete a set of English classics as the right hand could show of English and foreign physiologists. But if one took a volume of Chaucer or Shelley from that rank, its absence irritated the mind like a gap in a man's front teeth. One could not say the books were never read; probably they were, but there was a sense of their being chained to ther places, like the Bibles in the old churches.
Then, into this eminent Doctor's day, "there shumbled into the room a shapeless little figure, which seemed to find its own hat and umbrella as unmanageable as a mass of luggage. The umbrella was a black and prosaic bundle long past repair; the hat was a broad-curved black hat, clerical but not common in England; the man was the very embodiment of all that is homely and helpless." Needless to say, this is our erstwhile hero Father Brown. The two go on to try to solve a mystery; a boarder who has fallen in love with the landlady's daughter has been found tied up in his room, with everything in disarray. Meanwhile, before this the landlady overheard the boarder arguing with a mysterious Mr. Glass, who seems to come from the sea. Whatever is going on? As Dr. Hood provides his thoroughly scientific and rational answer, Father Brown seems to be trying not to laugh. And eventually he sees through the heart of the matter.

There are twelve stories, and my other favourites was "The Perishing of the Pendragons," which deals with an old family curse that keeps causing Pendragons to be shipwrecked. It's difficult to choose however-all but one of the stories were perfect gems! Throughout the collection, Father Brown is traveling: we see him in Scarborough, Italy, Paris, London, Chicago, Devonshire, Cornwall, Essex, and Germany. I don't know if that's usual of Father Brown stories, but I found the constant change of scenery quite refreshing! I do wish I could have gotten to know Father Brown a bit better, though...there isn't much character development in this collection.

I did alude to one story that I did not like at all: "The God of Gongs." It's the ninth story, so I was quite used to Chesterton's style, when all of a sudden this story appeared and through everything out of joint. It got very muddled very quickly, and Father Brown got in a violent altercation (which is quite unlike him), and it talks a lot about "negros," (and a much nastier n-word) and uses adjectives like "insolent" when referring to them. In fact, Father Brown's friend says, "Sometimes...I'm not surprised that they lynch them." The 'solution' is very confusing and talks about Voodoo, and I'm still quite annoyed that such a racist, garbage-y story is in the middle of an otherwise perfect collection. I realise the book was published in 1913, but it just didn't seem to fit any of the other stories. Oh well!

Other than that one story, I highly, highly recommend this collection to anyone who enjoys mystery stories. I know I'll be searching out the other Father Brown stories!


BooksPlease said...

I listed The Father Brown stories when I first thought of doing this challenge. So far, I haven't read any, so thank you for this review recommending them. I will get round to reading them even if it is after the challenge ends.

Eva said...

Booksplease, I'll look for your thoughts. They're a bunch of fun. :D