Monday, September 27, 2010

A Pit in Dothan: Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar

He walked slowly across the room until he was standing face to face with Brat by the window. He had abnormally clear grey eyes with a
darker rim to the iris, but they had no expression in them. Nor had his pale features any expression. He was so tightly strung, Brat thought,that if you plucked him with a finger he would twang.

And then quite suddenly the tightness went.

He stood for a moment searching Brat's face; and his own was suddenly slack with relief.

"They won't have told you?" he said, drawling a little, "but I was prepared to deny with my last breath that you were Patrick. Now that I've seen you I take all that back. Of course you are Patrick." He put out his hand. "Welcome home."


Brat Farrar, the eponymous hero of Josephine Tey’s 1949 novel, is a foundling brought up in an orphanage. A loner by disposition, Farrar leaves England in his teens, traveling as far as Mexico and the US but without settling anywhere. The only solidarity that he feels, in an otherwise lonely life, is with horses. Returning to England, he is one day accosted by a man called Alec Loding. A bit-part player, Loding, wants Farrar to impersonate Patrick Ashby, a neighbour of his in a village called Clare. Patrick had committed suicide some eight years back though his body has never been found. Had Patrick lived, he would have turned twenty one in a few weeks time and inherited his parental estate. At first, repulsed by the offer, Farrar starts taking an interest in the scheme as it provides him with excitement and thrill. Secondly, there are horses on the estate, and finally because somewhere he is keen to have a family. However, his decision to go along with the impersonation has far reaching impact on the other Ashbys, most notably, on Simon who as the slightly younger twin of Patrick was about to inherit the estate.

The book is not much of a mystery because you know right from the beginning that Brat Farrar is an imposter. The other mystery – that of the death of Patrick - can be easily deciphered too. The only mystery, in fact, is whether or not Brat is an Ashby and if so, who sired him. The plot, thus, is not gripping but Tey’s talent of creating memorable characters - notably the Rector George Peck and Aunt Bee who have a quiet dignity about them - keeps one engrossed in the text. Also, Tey’s description of the English rural life is engaging, though the details are more like that of life in the Thirties rather than what its date suggests -
a post- world war second novel.

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Brat Farrar can be purchased online or you can download it for free, as I did, from this site: http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks08/0800471.txt

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SPOILERS

The problem with Josephine Tey is that very early in the novel you get to know the characters the author sympathises with. From then on, the reader too is either forced to like those characters or if not then the reader is damned because the characters the author herself is not fond of come to a bad end. So it is with Simon in this book. Rather early in the book, I could guess what had happened to Patrick and for this Simon had to be shown as a petty, mean little thing. As Brat rises high in the esteem of everybody, Simon repeatedly comes across as shallow and finally downright evil. Questions like how could a thirteen year old execute such a diabolical plot or why the family was so eager to throw him over in favour of Brat are never satisfactorily answered. The way the family did behave was almost like they wanted somebody to spite Simon. Thank God Tey didn’t make Simon to have engineered the death of his parents too!


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Wednesday: 10th August, 2011


Entered for Book Review Party Wednesday



4 comments:

  1. This is one of my all time favorite books. I am a big Josephine Tey fan. For me, there is a rather strong strain of heartbreak running throughout this book - that's what I most remember about it. The death of that little boy.

    It's not so much knowing WHAT happened as being in the presence of such evil and living day to day with it. Not that the family is completely oblivious, but my feeling has always been that they suspected SOMETHING was amiss, but chose to look the other way. Very English, I'd have thought.

    Brat forces the truth out into the open. That is his 'job'. He is the catalyst.

    I think the 'mysteries' in this story are whether Simon will, eventually, get his comeuppance.
    And who, really, is Patrick?

    My only slight disappointment is that Patrick only turned out to be a cousin of sorts.

    Have you read A SHILLING FOR CANDLES? Or THE DAUGHTER OF TIME? Two other terrific Josephine Tey books. ;)

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  2. Hi Yvette, glad you had a look. It is an engrossing book but somehow I felt that the cards were stacked against Simon. Brat definitely was the catalyst and as he said once, he was 'retribution'. The novel is one in which the author, very skilfully, I must say, manipulates the reader's emotions. But I prefer books where you have more space for ambiguity.

    No, haven't read the two books mentioned but would definitely give them a try.

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  3. I felt that Simon got a bit of a raw deal actually, in the sense that everyone else seemed to get forgiven a multitude of sins while just seems to be the black sheep of the family and that's it, no explanation, no compassion. I think Yvette is quite right in terms of pinpointing the upside of the novel though as the virtues she singles out are definitely also there so I wouldn't want to sound too critical. Nice review Neer, cheers.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Sergio for being interested enough to have a look and leave a comment. :)

      The problem that I've with Tey is that she has her sympathies clear-cut. I simply cannot understand the family's attitude towards Simon vis-a-vis towards Brat. But I have only read two novels of Tey, perhaps in the others, she is not so didactic.

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