Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Even His Name Is Forgettable

The Innocence of Father BrownThe Innocence of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have, at this point, gone through the first nine of this collection of twelve stories, and I am now fully convinced that Chesterton was not only a man of a brilliant mind, but of a very singular mind. His paradox is well known, his way of looking at things in an entirely novel light, his self-deprecation, his humor and wit and sheer genius are all legendary, but these stories are a glimpse into the workings of his mind when he decided to amuse himself with a train of thought, and are fascinating.

They are mysteries, a la Sherlock Holmes, but the protagonist is a small, unremarkable priest with a tremendous knowledge of the depths of human nature and an almost obtuse optimism that, combined with the sacred and private nature of confession, allows him not only to solve the crime but to save the criminal. As character studies, they are astonishing. I once commented of a Cormac McCarthy novel that I had met half of his characters. The same and often more is true of these: not only have I met these characters, these lovable cynics, tunnel-visioned atheists and abstruse agnostics, but I have been and am them more often than I would care to admit.

And the crimes? The crimes committed are fantastic, impossible; crimes that defy every imagination's attempts to reconcile them with reality save that singular mind of Chesterton's which can see in reality nothing but the fantastic and impossible, and thusly marries the two with uncanny ease. This has several times caused me to utter ejaculations with a sound, as Wodehouse puts it, of Chesterton falling on a sheet of tin, due to the incurably shy simplicity that would reveal itself to none but the silent, forgotten Priest who courts truth as a lover.

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