Jim's Reviews > The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Volume 12: The Father Brown Stories, Volume I

The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Volume 12 by G.K. Chesterton
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's review
Feb 01, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: chesterton, mysteries, short-stories
Read from February 01 to 05, 2012

This volume contains two collections of stories -- The Innocence of Father Brown and The Wisdom of Father brown -- and the story "The Donnington Affair." I had read The Innocence of Father Brown separately and reviewed it here. This review is of The Wisdom of Father Brown and "The Donnington Affair."

What is so brilliant about Chesterton's Father Brown stories is that, on one hand, its detective is totally nondescript, even dumpy, and, on the other, that no one is better able to think outside the box. In some of the stories, there is no crime at all, or suspects are not at all what or who they seem to be, or the crime is so odd as to almost beggar description. And yet, through logic or even through incredible accident, Father Brown is able to zero in on the facts of the case long before anyone else, including the reader. Along the way he delivers himself of gnomic comments like, "What we all dread most ... is a maze with no center. That is why atheism is only a nightmare."

Another time, in the story entitled "The Purple Wig," he says:
"I know the Unknown God," said the little priest, with an unconscious grandeur of certitude that stood up like a granite tower. "I know his name; it is Satan. The true God was made flesh and dwelt among us. And I say to you, wherever you find men ruled merely by mystery, it is the mystery of iniquity. If the devil tells you something is too fearful to look at, look at it. If he says something is too terrible to hear, hear it. If you think some truth unbearable, bear it...."
Chesterton carries his love of paradox into these wonderful little tales. And he also carries his gift for what I call moral landscapes, in which even his descriptions of houses and trees reflect the innate wrongness of whatever has happened or is threatened to happen. It reminds me of s scene in Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) in which a distraught Tippi Hedren visits her mother in a scene where the end of the street is a painted backdrop of docked freighter with children singing a depressing song while skipping rope. When she has confronted her demons, Hitchcock replaces the backdrop with a real shot of freighters on a sunny day with birds chirping in the background.

"The Donnington Affair" is not quite up to the level of the other stories in this volume, mostly because it was written in two parts, the first by Mex Pemberton in which he poses a mystery, and the second by G. K. Chesterton in which he sets Father Brown to solve it. Unfortunately, there is too much of a difference between the two minds for the two halves of the story to come together. Chesterton did a lot of this sort of jeu during his career, but none of the results are memorable.

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Reading Progress

02/01/2012 page 271
59.0% "I finished The Innocence of Father brown last year. Now I'm going to read The Wisdom of Father Brown and the stand-alone story, "The Donnington Affair.""
12/27/2017 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Justeenetta (new)

Justeenetta I read most of chesterton in the very old days, but none of the father brown stories, must remedy that. now I have vidal's last (?) us novel, the golden days?, his collected essays which i've read all to most of before, the steven king novel about jfl, fabulous, bur I left it at the studio for much later, the new stephnson novel readme (?). & I've not yet finished warlock. the first 3 are very heavy & I'll be renewing them & carrying them back & forth for a time

message 2: by Mary Ronan (new)

Mary Ronan Drew I picked up the complete works of Chesterton for my Kindle and after reading your review I'm glad I did. It's definitely past time to re-read this guy.

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