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A Father Brown (and Bookpile) Sunday

January 6, 2008

Bookpile first!  This morning, snow greeted me as I tramped out to the mailbox.  BookpileI hadn’t checked mail in a few days, because I assumed that my amazon and bookmooch stuff wouldn’t be in yet.  So imagine my delight when I found all of these books waiting for me!  It’s difficult to see in the picture, but the cover of Salinger’s Nine Stories is super-cool: each of those coloured squares has one of the story titles, and the back cover is the same.  All of these were ordered/mooched in the final days of 2007, so I haven’t broken my resolution yet. :)

For the short story Sunday this week, I’m going to look at a book I’ve already mentioned, but this time in greater depth. OACAnd the Book? The Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton (This was cross-posted at the Outmoded Authors Blog yesterday)

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.”  Edited to add: as Gramps rightly pointed out, Father Brown’s reply is “I’m never surprised by any work of hell.”  While that certainly gives Chesterton and Father Brown much more moral standing, I don’t think it mitigates Flambeau himself.  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!  (And, in case you haven’t visited the blog lately, there are four days left to enter my book giveaway drawing. :) Just leave a comment on Resolutions and Challenges ’08 (it’s easier for me if all the entrants are on the same thread) if you want a chance to win Ex Libris or The Collector. Post a link to the contest on your blog for an extra chance at winning!)

13 Comments leave one →
  1. January 6, 2008 2:54 pm

    Nine Stories is great! It has one of my favourite short stories ever, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”. The others are really good too.

    The Father Brown stories sound great! Except for the racist one, of course. I really hope to read them at some point this year.

  2. Dark Orpheus permalink
    January 7, 2008 12:31 am

    I always felt the Father Brown mysteries were superior to the Sherlock Holmes stories. It’s the way the ridiculous and the absurd in the Father Borwn mysteries have their own logic behind it.

    I’ve been telling myself to real the complete Father Brown mysteries for the past 8 years. Alas. :)

  3. January 7, 2008 4:29 am

    Nymeth, yay! I’ll look forward to reading them. :)

    Dark Orpheus, I’ve only ever read one Sherlock Holmes story, and I didn’t much enjoy it (which is funny, since I love the Mary Russell series). I think I like Father Brown more as well!

  4. Gramps permalink
    January 7, 2008 5:54 am

    Printing Father Brown’s response puts a different slant on Flambeau’s comment.

    Flambeau: Sometims I’m not surprised they lynch them.
    Fr Brown: I’m never surprised at any work of hell.

    ~ Gramps

  5. January 7, 2008 6:39 am

    G.K. Chesterton is great! I highly recommend the very strange but enjoyable The Man Who Was Thursday.

  6. January 7, 2008 6:52 am

    Typos on my last comment! *cover eyes*

    The Mary Russell stories are in a league of their own. Holmes is more humane, warmer in Laurie R. King’s stories. And funnier too. :)

    I love the Mary Russells.

  7. January 7, 2008 7:28 am

    Gramps, Father Brown’s response certainly validates that he isn’t racist (and I’ll edit my post to include that). However, it doesn’t make his friend Falmbeau less of a racist, if you get me drfti.

    Carl, I’ll look into that!

    Dark Orpheus, I always have a ton of typos, lol, so don’t worry about it. I think part of why I don’t really enjoy Doyle’s Holmes stories is that I read Laurie King first. I love the Mary Russells as well!

  8. January 10, 2008 1:16 pm

    I absolutely adore Father Brown, so it’s nice to know that someone else read and liked the stories! I agree with you about God of the Gongs—such an unfortunate blot on an otherwise wonderful collection.

    If you don’t mind reading ebooks, there’s a nicely formatted Complete Father Brown that I often turn to to spend the odd free half-hour at my laptop.

    And librivox.org has a free audio version of The Wisdom of Father Brown which I quite like, although I’m not a fan of audiobooks in general.

  9. January 11, 2008 9:27 am

    Hi Poodlerat! So good to see you back. :) I thought you’d given up blogging! I’ll have to check out that ebook; I’ve never tried to read one before, but I’d love to have all the Father Brown stories!

  10. January 11, 2008 10:37 am

    Thanks! I didn’t intend such a long hiatus, but between my part-time job and my schoolwork, things just got away from me.

    I don’t mind ebooks myself, although generally I prefer to read a hard copy (unless its something completely frivolous that I know I won’t much enjoy, like a romance or a thriller). If you can’t get the real thing right away, though, an electronic copy can be a good temporary substitute!

  11. June 1, 2008 5:21 pm

    I love that book quote!

  12. June 1, 2008 5:28 pm

    Isn’t it great?!

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