Saturday, February 12, 2011

"Such a Dinner as Makes Me...

more than ever anxious for the collapse of Civilization As We Know It."

Ah, Rumpole

The First Rumpole Omnibus The First Rumpole Omnibus by John Mortimer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was absolutely glorious. Just delightful.

"As I always say, murder is nothing more than common assault, with unfortunate consequences."
"He stands up with all the eager self-confidence of a rabbit with a retiring disposition caught in the headlights of an oncoming car."
"so that the unfortunate Guthrie often arrived at Chambers looking less like a suave and successful Q.C... than a man who spends his nights watching over a dynamite factory in which all the employees are allowed to smoke."
"It was rather as if a heretic, dragged before the Inquisition, had been told he'd just won a holiday in the Bahamas."

Mortimer is obviously deeply influenced by Wodehouse, and his Rumpole--short, fat, careless with money, conjoined half in war, half wedlock with She Who Must Be Obeyed (in which relationship there actually is a profound affection built out of security that we catch glimpses of), always spouting poetry, always defending and saying, "there, but for the grace of God, goes Rumpole"--his Rumpole, seems actually to be a character with deep, Christian virtues (hear me out). He is not a superficial Christian--he is not even a Christian, I don't think--as Soapy Sam Ballard is a superficial Christian, and he revolts against the hypocrisy of such a life. His life, however, is one of fierce grace: he always defends, he never pleads guilty, and he fights tooth and nail to give his (often villainous) clients a second chance at life. He has a thorough terror and loathing of ever condemning, which is rooted deeply enough to prevent his career from ever advancing, and his love of life (Pomeroy's "Chateau Fleet Street" Claret, small cigars, roaring fire and great poetry) are as deeply Puritanical (in the early, teach your dog to knock the hats off of bishops, delight in beer and making love to your wife manner of Puritans) as we could ever hope to emulate. This, combined with his wry cynicism, distaste of judges, Holmes-like intelligence and Wilde-like wit, and his deep knowledge of human nature that doesn't displace his compassion for people, make him one of my all-time favorite literary characters. The fact that he quotes poetry that I don't know doesn't hurt.

All in all, I am developing a deep and lasting affection for the brilliant, fat, British barrister, and would strongly advise anyone else to do the same.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

St. Francis of A Ninny?

St. Francis of AssisiSt. Francis of Assisi by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have one tremendous criticism to make of this book. If you have some perfectly good, bitter resentment towards the Franciscans (entirely legitimate), or towards St. Francis himself, or even the Jongleurs de Dieu, this book will take that exquisite resentment and turn it into an entirely unsatisfactory mushy benevolent feeling.

Another of Chesterton's brilliant works. Frederick Buechner once fondly criticized Chesterton with the comment that he'd written entirely too much for all of it to be excellent. I can sympathize, so long as I mention the fact that I've not yet found any of his "less than excellent" work. This book was delightful, short, and densely packed--the written version of a small piece of extremely rich cheesecake. One of the lines that stuck with me: "He could only be tempted by a sacrament."

However, being Chesterton, it does have the one typical criticism (other than making other writers boring), that the tremendously fat Catholic lightly leaps from topic to topic like the mountain goat from crag to crag, or the Hollywood star from blonde to blonde, and we end up not really knowing a whole lot more about St. Francis. But who reads books by Chesterton in order to learn about some narrow topic? You might as well hike solely in order to lose weight, or make love to your wife for the sole purpose of manufacturing babies, ignoring all of the pleasure to be gained from how delightful God made the path.

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