Friday, June 8, 2012

Josephine Tey - Brat Farrar

I just finished re-reading Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar, published in 1950.  Talk about masterful.  Wow.  Funny, I mis-remembered the plot from when I last read it, which was something like a bazzilion years ago.

Brat Farrar, an itinerant orphan, carries an uncanny resemblance to Simon Ashby, who is about to turn 21 and inherit his family's country estate.  Brat is drawn into the Ashby family circle, posing as Patrick Ashby, Simon's older twin, who was thought to have committed suicide at the age of 13.

The mystery isn't about whether Brat is Patrick - it's a given that he isn't - but rather gradually uncovers the unanswered questions around Patrick Ashby's death and culminating in quite a shocking conclusion.

Yet much of the story centers around Brat's impersonation - his motivation for doing so, his ongoing ethical struggles about it, and his interactions with the other characters.  This aspect of the story is compelling and done in a believable way.  The different characters are so wonderfully drawn out.  It's easy to get complacent as reader and think that's all it's about.  All along, though, Tey is maneuvering the reader to the point of realizing that there is a mystery to be solved, gradually building up an undercurrent of danger and menace.

Reading this book made me have the unoriginal thought that writers (and aspiring writers) have it both easier and more difficult than genre writers from the past.  Earlier writers were essentially inventing the genre, and having to invent much more on their own, while many writers now can get away with being a derivative or piecemeal of earlier works, shifting and rearranging characters and plot elements like building blocks or a jigsaw puzzle with different solutions.

On the flip side of that argument, why it might be more difficult now, so many variations on theme, ingenious twists in plot and characters, and genre-crossing have been exhausted already that it's hard to come up with anything that seems fresh enough to capture interest.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for commenting!