Monday, May 31, 2010

Father Brown


Welcome to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction blog tour hosted by the Classics Circuit. For today's stop, I'm reviewing
Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton. Before I start my review, I want to say that Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday is my husband's favorite book, and it's definitely up there on my list too. It's a great mind-tripping well-written mystery. I just want to preface my review with that so I don't steer you away from Chesterton entirely. You should read The Man Who Was Thursday; it's just around 150 pages and it's great.
But Father Brown is not. Too be far, I do see how other people could enjoy this collection of short stories. I know my husband does. But when I read a mystery, I want suspense. I want clues so that I can at least try to find the solution. And I want fun. I didn't get any of that out of Father Brown.
Father Brown is very literary. Even thought it's all short stories, half of each story has nothing to do with the mystery and is just more about life in general. I felt like the stories focused more on philosophy and things like how you never know when you're sitting right next to a murderer. The stories are all clever, but I just didn't find them interesting.
I had exactly the same feeling when I read Sherlock Holmes though. I only made it through two Holmes stories before deciding not to force myself to suffer through anymore, so I'm clearly not an expert, but the stories seem fairly similar on some level, and I think that if you enjoy the Holmes stories you would enjoy Father Brown. So I don't want to discourage everyone from reading them, I just want to explain why I didn't really care for them. I want my mysteries to keep me on the edge of my seat. Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown don't do that for me. They may actually be a lot more intelligent and literary reads than the mysteries I prefer, but when I read a mystery it's because I'm in the mood for an escape and I don't want something overly literary. (Now, I didn't really find Sir Conan Doyle's writing to be that great, but he's considered literary and his stories do have a more intelligent focus.) Maybe if I was better prepared going in and not expecting something lighter I would have enjoyed this more. I do want to point out that the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown are quite different though. Holmes is so egotistical, moody, and he overpowers the stories, while Father Brown hovers in the background, quiet, calm, supremely rational.
I did really enjoy this quote though: "It's part of something I've noticed more and more in the modern world...People readily swallow the untested claims of this, that, or the other...It's the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense and can't see things as they are." That theme came up quite a lot, that people often accept what others say without thinking about it, yet the question what is right in front of them. If you don't believe in God, you still search for something to feel that void and don't have the moral compass to prevent you from doing things like killing people or stealing or other things for your own benefit. Clearly not everyone who doesn't believe in God does those things, but it's a lot easier to do those things if you don't think there's some sort of eternal punishment awaiting you for doing them. Father Brown also talks a lot about being both a man of faith and a man of science, like Chesterton himself was. He believed that the two worked together, and that common sense makes you belief in God and that if you abandon him you abandon common sense. Although he's not very popular anymore, Wikipedia lists numerous authors who cited him as an influence on them, including C.S. Lewis and Neil Gaiman. Wikipedia also had this quote I found quite entertaining: "The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected." So, while I didn't enjoy Father Brown as much as I had hoped, I'm still fond of Chesterton in general and hope you give The Man Who Was Thursday a try!

4 comments:

  1. Oh no. I'll have to try The Man Who was Thursday then.

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  2. You say: "Holmes is so egotistical, moody, and he overpowers the stories, while Father Brown hovers in the background, quiet, calm, supremely rational."

    And that is why I enjoyed Father Brown and not Sherlock Holmes (who I don't really like reading at all). For Chesterton, I enjoyed the religious elements, the literary element, and so forth. But in the end, I did not put Father Brown on a list of favorite reads. I am just not a mystery fan and much as I wished Father Brown to be something other than mystery, in the end it still was a mystery.

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  3. Loved the Mand Who Was Thursday! I'm not a mystery reader but when I do read a mystery I like them to be, well, kind of like you describe the Father Brown stories. So you didn't turn me off at all, you actuall made me more interested in reading them :)

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  4. I'm glad I didn't turn you away from the stories, Stefanie! I really wanted to like them more, they just weren't for me. I hope you enjoy them if you read them! Chris - definitely try The Man Who Was Thursday.
    Rebecca - I think the Father Brown stories needed to either go farther toward being a mystery or stay away from it and just be a story. They sort of try to have it both ways and it just doesn't work for a lot of people, I think.

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