Father Brown

In this collection of short stories, Father Brown, a Catholic Priest, is introduced as a small, inconspicuous, somewhat clumsy individual. It suffices to say looks can be deceiving. Father Brown, because he is a priest, knows a thing or two about human nature. (More at any rate, than a spinster living in a small village!) He has come into contact with all types of criminals and has learned some of their tricks – not, of course, to repeat them, but rather to identify certain behaviour. He hasn’t made a profession of detecting, but his profession has made him a sort of detective.

Things I liked

The style of detection was different from what I’m used to with Agatha Christie. Her detectives Disapprove of murder with a capital D – as of course they should. But what I liked about Father Brown was how it dealt with the human side of each case. It wasn’t labeled from the beginning that a man is a murderer, he is evil, he was born wrong and must be condemned. G. K. Chesterton showed how a man is a man first, who then commits a murder due to his baser instincts. There were also the cases where the murderer had no pity from the reader, but nevertheless, we always saw his human side. Because it’s ludicrous to suppose that lines can be drawn. Everyone has the capacity to commit a crime. Father Brown understood that and being a priest judged accordingly.

I also enjoyed Father Brown’s beliefs of the supernatural; How he didn’t believe in it despite being a priest. It was supposed by many characters that he would, but his clear-sightedness always saw past all that to the reality.

Things I didn’t like

Most of the time in the stories I was disappointed that G. K. Chesterton ended up killing off the murderer with suicide. It was as if he didn’t want to deal with the character after he had committed a crime. As I said before, the book dealt nicely with the development of the crime, but it was tidied up so as to not deal with the after effects. It wasn’t done in every story, but often enough to annoy me.

Father Brown was a very astute detective, but many times, even when he was introduced before the crime or murder had been committed, he failed to solve it in time. I might be asking for the impossible here (although that is precisely what Hercule Poirot does in the short story Wasps’ Nest), but if he was able to read humans so well, he might have made an effort to dispel the tension which naturally led to the murders.

The Aspern Papers

It’s taken me days to write a review on this book – and not because I’ve been busy. I just can’t figure out what to say about it! ……………….. If I MUST, all I can say is that the book strangely led nowhere for me.

In The Aspern Papers Henry James shows the common practice of publishers to invade the private lives of public figures, how the family members or intimate acquaintances react to this invasion and the awkward situation created when a publisher schemes and lies for what he wants.

The narrator of the novella, an unnamed publisher, wants “The Aspern Papers”; papers he is sure that Juliana Bordereau, former lover of the famous poet Jeffrey Aspern, must have. He goes prepared to do whatever he must to get those papers and, under false pretences, obtains admission to the house she lives in with her niece Tina. Eventually, he is caught in an awkward position and must decide whether he will be absolutely unscrupulous or if he still has some standards of his own.

This is one of those few times that I loved the development of the story – it had me reading till the last page. The obsession for those unseen papers increases as the story progresses and the reader, along with the publisher, would do anything to just know what they contained. The interaction in the book is namely between the publisher and Tina Bordereau. Having revealed the truth to the niece, he hopes for some help from her. The ending was a shock to say the least. I, like the publisher, was unbelieving. I had invested so much in finding out what the papers were and if he would get them that I felt I had lost something myself. This is why The Aspern Papers felt like it went nowhere – because as far as the poor publisher was concerned, nowhere is where he ended.

The Turn of the Screw

A young governess’ manuscript is read at a gathering in which ghost stories are being told – only this is not the typical ghost story. Hired by an enigmatic man to look after his orphaned nephew and niece, the unnamed governess tells of her journey to the country house Bly. She instantly falls in love with the angelic children Miles and Flora. Nothing could be more perfect. She has a good salary and complete control over the servants. But why all the rules? What is the mystery behind the previous governess’ death? But these questions come much later.

One day, the governess spots an unknown man on the premises. A trespasser she presumes. But on giving the description to the housekeeper, she is never more surprised when the man is identified as Peter Quint – the master’s previous valet who is now dead. This apparently terrifying turn of events is accepted both by the young woman and the housekeeper! It isn’t long before the two make another startling discovery: the children know of the spirits. The governess soon begins seeing Peter Quint and her predecessor Miss Jessel walking about the grounds and the house. The children are interacting with the dead – with an evil too appalling to think of. The real evil is never made clear; it is left to our imagination. The governess guards the children hoping to save their souls. One day things come to a head with tragic consequences.

Critical Analysis
I don’t usually like critically analysing a book, but in some cases it is called for. The Turn of the Screw is a book that has baffled many critics. Many questions remain unanswered to this day: For example, the nature of the evil the children are involved in with the valet and the previous governess is never fully revealed. Then many critics are doubtful as to whether the children were really evil and interacting with spirits; they assume that the governess herself could have been hallucinating as no clear statement is made otherwise. Against this argument is of course the fact that the boy Miles actually asks for Peter Quint before dying. Their is also the letter from Miles’ headmaster indicating bad behaviour – somewhat odd considering his angelic demeanor at Bly.

It has never been proved that Henry James meant The Turn of the Screw to be anything other than the straightforward ghost story most assume it to be. I myself can never get over the odd children. Children are usually portrayed as either good or ‘naughty’ – rarely pure evil. The effect is to say the least horrible! Before I started this blog I had never been in the habit of articulating my impressions about a book. Of course I knew whether I liked it or hated it, but this book lay in between. I didn’t like it – but neither did I hate it. It was eerie and uncomfortable with a depressing atmosphere, but had a strong pull. For those interested in more critical analysis go here.