The Wisdom of Father Brown

G.K. Chesterton knows his way around the English language. He often makes it do silly things, purely for his own amusement. His Father Brown books, especially, have a sense of linguistic playfulness, a forsaking of realism that doesn’t necessarily forsake the traditional.

And Chesterton is very traditional. This book, as does The Man Who Was Thursday, almost reads a bit anachronistically. The prose itself seems trapped between two worlds, an Edwardian throwback to both the Gothic and the Romantic. And his overpowering conservatism raises its head at every opportunity. He goes comically far out of his way to lampoon atheists and other “secular philosophers”. There’s some genuinely surprising racism, even for 1914. This kind of religious dogmatism and staunch social conservatism would be less bothersome if it were not so ever-present, and more tolerable if it were not so damn preachy.

I’ve read a fair bit of Chesterton, and while I am glad do have done so, I don’t think I’ll be picking up any more of his books, at least, not for a while. As a writer, I enjoy dissecting the mechanics and the poetics of his sentences, and I respect him on a level of craft. But I just can’t get over how badly his books have held up over time, or the distracting manner with which he preaches on his constant themes.

Recommendation: Read this or The Man Who Was Thursday if you aren’t familiar with Chesterton, and if you have an interest in the evolution of English prose over the last two hundred years. Otherwise, skip it.

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