The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

A mystery to me…

😦

This is the first collection of Chesterton’s stories about the little Catholic priest who not only solves inexplicable mysteries but also cures souls as he goes along. There are twelve stories and I made it through almost four of them before I decided I’d rather be cleaning the cats’ litter tray.

Sometimes when I dislike a popular book or author, I can see why the world loves them even although I don’t. But not with Father Brown, I fear. Nonsensical plots, frequently poor writing and ridiculous scenes of the priest with a few words bringing hardened criminals to repentance leave me struggling to find anything to admire in these. Throw in Chesterton’s supercilious disdain for anyone from a creed other than his own – i.e., Roman Catholicism – with his sanctimonious sneering reserved especially for atheists and Jews, and I find the stories often actively unpleasant as well as unentertaining.

Let me give you an example, which includes major spoilers for one of the stories, The Queer Feet. A group of rich gentlemen have a monthly dining club during which they use their own valuable set of fish knives and forks. On this evening, while they dine in one room of a restaurant, Father Brown sits locked in in another, writing a letter on behalf of a dying man. (Why locked in? No idea, other than that the plot requires him to be unable to open the door and look out.) Hearing footsteps outside in the corridor, he miraculously extrapolates from the sound of them a) that something queer is going on b) that it must be someone pretending to be a gentleman part of the time and a waiter the other part and c) that therefore this individual must be stealing the valuable cutlery about which Brown miraculously seems to know and d) that the criminal is getting way with this imposture because gentlemen and waiters all wear black jackets and it is therefore impossible to tell them apart. Having worked all this out on the basis of the sound of the footsteps, and having then discovered that there’s a second door in his locked room which has been unlocked all along *eyeroll*, Brown tackles the dangerous criminal, and with a few words persuades him to repent, turn over the loot and depart to lead a better life. I think my favourite line, showing Chesterton’s poor grasp of either writing or arithmetic – perhaps both – must be:

The proprietor knew all his waiters like the fingers on his hand; there were only fifteen of them all told.

Challenge details:
Book: 7
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1911

Still, at least that line made me smile, unlike this, from the following story, one of several snide remarks about Jews and their supposed love of money:

…squires should be swindled in long rooms panelled with oak; while Jews, on the other hand, should rather find themselves unexpectedly penniless among the lights and screens of the Café Riche.

Other reviews inform me he’s even worse later about Indians and Chinese people. Of its time, of course, and I’d doubtless have been able to overlook it had I been enjoying the stories more.

Then there are the moments when he reaches for the heights of grandiose melodrama, and misses by a mile:

Lady Galloway screamed. Everyone else sat tingling at the touch of those satanic tragedies that have been between lovers before now. They saw the proud, white face of the Scotch aristocrat and her lover, the Irish adventurer, like old portraits in a dark house. The long silence was full of formless historical memories of murdered husbands and poisonous paramours.

What can I say? Obviously other people see something quite different when they read these stories or they wouldn’t be as lastingly popular as they are. For me, they’re a 1-star fail, but statistically speaking there’s a good chance you’d love them. Go figure.

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53 thoughts on “The Innocence of Father Brown by GK Chesterton

  1. Really enjoyed reading your review 😁I haven’t read any of the stories and don’t think I ever wiill now 😂 I couldn’t get interested in the TV series but have no idea how that compares.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Haha, glad you enjoyed it – I do get bitter when a book lets me down! 😉 I only watched a couple of episodes of the TV series too and thought they were pretty dull. I think they’re cosier than the stories, possibly.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A terrific review as ever, FictionFan. I didn’t dislike these stories the way you did, but you’re spot on, I think, about the ‘-isms.’ And there definitely are those moments where your disbelief simply gets up and leaves the room. Besides, statistics or not, if the stories don’t appeal to you, they don’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, I definitely have an allergic reaction to these and that always makes me grumpy about the kind of -isms I’d normally be willing to overlook in a book of this era. But I’m glad to have read the few I got through just for the image of the man with fifteen fingers… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank You so much, Fiction Fan. I used to wonder whether I was the only one who could not get along with Father Brown. I did read more than you though. Think the volume was the Complete Stories of Father Brown or something like that. For two volumes or something, I liked him and then I just couldn’t go on. it just became too much.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank goodness I didn’t get the Complete version – think of the damage when I threw it at the wall! 😉 I’ve come across an occasional one in an anthology before, and almost always disliked them, so I went into this knowing he was unlikely to win me over. And he didn’t!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Like Margot, I found some enjoyment in the stories, though I understand why you didn’t. I couldn’t make it through another of Chesterton’s books though I know others who rave about that book and others he wrote.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve never understood the attraction to Father Brown. I’ve only read stories that I’ve come across in anthologies before and I’m afraid trying to read several of them back to back just made my allergic reaction worse! This reading thing is all so subjective… 🙂

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  5. The line you quoted about the waiters was brilliantly terrible, at least you found something to make you smile, all be it for the wrong reasons. I’ve seen snippets of the tv series in passing, and found it far too twee for my taste, but I know people who like it. By the sound of it, Chesterton had far too many prejudices to make for a palatable reading experience. I’ll take your word for it and give these a miss.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Isn’t it just a fab line? Worth struggling through the four stories just for that! 😀 Yes, I only watched a couple of episodes and found it too cosy, despite being an avid fan of Murder, She Wrote! The stories don’t have that same cosy afternoon feel, but they don’t have much else to recommend them either – though loads of people think they’re great! Humans are strange… 😉

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  6. I’ve never read any of these books, but part of me thought I might enjoy them. Thank you for showing me I wouldn’t! I’m a lifelong Catholic and respect priests, but I couldn’t get past this one’s disdain for those of other (or no) religions. Some of my best friends in high school belonged to other religions (including Judaism) — and the “mysteries” you’ve described from this book sound, frankly, tedious. Oh, well, more time to read something else!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, I always hate that kind of sneering about religious differences, though in a book of this era I’d usually make some allowances if it had other things to recommend it. I also hated the quick conversion and repentance scenes – if only it were that easy, eh? No arm-twisting from me on this one! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My doctoral supervisor was a great fan of Father Brown and because I respected his opinions I bought the entire collection. I never made it past the first story and I never admitted this to my supervisor either!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hahaha, that makes me feel better! It always bothers me a bit when I can’t see what it is about an author that other people enjoy, but this is one of those cases. Interesting that several commenters didn’t enjoy them either… makes me feel lees of an outcast! 😀

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  8. I quite liked the TV series but only because the settings and costumes are so well done, perfect 1950s fashions and interior decor.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t watch much TV these days so have only seen a couple of episodes, and I got the impression that they’re a bit cosier than the originals which would probably make them more fun. But I think I’ll cheerfully skip both TV and written versions in future! 😉

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  9. I’ve come across numerous Chesterton quotes through the years that I really liked, so when I got my first Kindle, I downloaded a free version of all the Father Brown mysteries. I’ve yet to read the first one, and now I’m not so sure I want to read any of them. Intolerance is one of those things for which I don’t have much tolerance . 😉 Seriously, I would find that off-putting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, well put! I can usually ignore that kind of casual intolerance in a book of this era so long as the stories hold my interest otherwise. But as soon as a book starts to annoy me, I get picky… 😉 But loads of people love these so don’t let me put you off completely. Maybe the later ones are better than this first collection… maybe…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh that was perfect and quite gave me a LOL moment. While I didn’t resort to cleaning the cat’s litter box–we don’t have one–I certainly found other things to do. And I’m talking about the TV series, which I can only assume were based on the books. Think we barely made it thru three of them–they never got better.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, it’s just as well I hate books from time to time or the cats would leave home! 😉 I only watched a couple of episodes of the TV series and they didn’t do much for me either, but they did look cosier than the originals. I think I’ll manage to miss both the TV and the written version in the future… 😉

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    • Yes, and there’s a kind of sameness about them when you try to read several one after the other. The occasional one in an anthology will be more than enough for me in the future… 😀

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    • I don’t watch much TV so only caught a couple of the episodes – they seemed a bit cosier than the originals and all that lovely scenery helps! Haha – my pleasure! Though statistically you’d probably love them… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I have read and enjoyed some individual Father Brown stories in various themed books (I remember loving a Christmassy one a couple of years ago), but I’ve never been able to make it through the Father Brown collection I’ve got on my shelves. In the past I have read and liked some of Chesterton’s non-fiction theological writing (despite not being a Catholic), but when he tries to shoehorn it into these stories it really doesn’t do it for me. Glad to know that I’m not missing out by having given up on them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ve only read odd ones in anthologies before and mostly didn’t enjoy them, so I knew he’d have an uphill battle to win me over. He failed! I haven’t read anything else by him, but his attitudes in this collection have put me off him totally. Though maybe they’re not his attitudes – maybe they’re Father Brown’s… nope, not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  12. OMG these sound TERRIBLE. No wonder you DNF’d, I would have too (which is rare for me, but these stories call for it!). Fear not, they can’t be that popular as I’ve never even heard of them! Not even a bit!

    Liked by 2 people

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