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"Brat Farrar" by Josephine Tey
Josephine Tey traditionally writes mysteries, usually detective fiction. In "Brat Farrar" she presents us with a very traditional British romantic/Gothic suspense story during the "Golden Age". This is a story of impersonation, deception, greed, all ingredients for a Gothic. However, you have a hero rather than a heroine. If you like Mary Stewart, try this one. "A"
I've been meaning to read this for years. I've only heard good things. This seems to be one for people who like literate Gothics. (In fact, the British version of Mary Stewart's "The Ivy Tree" has a discussion of "Brat Farrar." The American version deleted this bit).
I was all set to love this story. It's on this forum's Best Gothic Romance List, I'd heard nothing but good so far, I like impersonation themes and right at the start of the novel I knew I loved this author's writing style. Then why don't I feel satisfied now I've finished reading?

Perhaps because it was all so very predictable. That's not per se a bad thing; you can enjoy the road towards resolution. But I would have loved just a few surprising twists. So the mystery was not really a mystery; we only don't know how it'll end: will Brat keep on as impostor or will he come clean, and what will happen to the evildoer.

The author writes beautifully and gives us all these lovely details that portray the English country life. This was overdone, however, in an account of a day at the races that went on and on and had nothing to do with the story. I would have skipped over this boring horse stuff if she hadn't tantalized the reader with: "So the Ashby household settled back to its normal placidity, and to its preparations for that day at Bures that was to alter all their lives."

I'd like to add a few more complaints re the narrative.
There were too many convenient coincidences that helped the author in writing an easy story, but would never have happened in real life. The impostor is selected because of his looks, obviously, but other than that he is the same age, the same nationality, conveniently orphaned with no acquaintances in England, is well-bred, has exactly the same personality and is just as crazy about horses as all the others. Suspension of disbelief required here.
Brat Farrar impersonates a boy who presumably killed himself (or perhaps ran away) eight years ago at age thirteen. The first thing he does upon returning home is visit their lawyers. Which is explained like this: "He said a boy coming home after years away would go home." "Then he doesn't know Patrick. That is just what Patrick would have done: broken it gently by going to the family lawyer first. He was always the most thoughtful and unselfish of creatures." I'm not buying this at all: going home is going home.
Next it's up to the lawyers to verify if Brat really is Patrick. Why? How? They can only investigate if what Brat says is correct, and a good impersonator will make sure that what he says is verifiable. A family knows the important things: shared knowledge, habits, likes and dislikes. All right, I thought, we'll see the grilling start when Brat/Patrick joins the family. Nope: Brat thought, listening to them, how very English it all was. Here he was, back from the dead, and they were calmly discussing American table manners. There was no backslapping, congratulatory insistence on the situation as there would be in a transatlantic household. They avoided the do-you-remember theme as determinedly as Americans would have wallowed in it.
Not even once did anyone ask the question "Why did you run away?" The boldest question asked was "Why didn't you write?" and when Patrick answers "I don't know. Honestly, I don't know!" that suffices apparently.

As I have mixed feelings I'm going to give my verdict in partitions:
Gothicness: none whatsoever
Mood setting: very good
Characterization: excellent
Prose: excellent
Story: disappointing
I have not read this one, and I did not enjoy Stewart's THE IVY TREE much, but I would like to warmly recommend Daphne du Maurier's THE SCAPEGOAT, which, while not a gothic or even really a thriller, is a superior and ultimately very moving treatment of the doppelganger theme.
OK, Brat Farrar may not have the typical trappings of a gothic, but there are elements in it which made me include it. First, there is a mystery, which I believe is requisite. Charybdis may not feel there is much mystery because we know at the outset that our hero, Brat, is not Patrick. But there is a mystery about who Brat really is, which I personally felt was glossed over at the end. I would have preferred that there was something more definite about his identity. Also, because Brat knows he is an impostor, he felt inclined to discover what really happened to Patrick.

Yes, I found it odd that no one questions Brat much about his motives for leaving, etc., but after discovering how reserved the English really are, it's not difficult to accept. Also, I believe that the family were ready and willing to accept Brat (each for different motives) so they did not question.

Another element concerned in gothics is a fortune or title. Something of value that puts the hero/heroine in danger. In this case, it was the farm. As Patrick, Brat laid claim to his inheritance.

Not your typical gothic, no. But I loved the story, and the mystery/suspense in it justifies my decision to include it on the list.
I just finished this tonight and ran in to post...i actually agree with both of you, MysteryMind and Charybdis...i guess all those "conveniences" the author peppers throughout the story can either be handled in one of two ways...either they are just too outrageous for the reader to accept, or as you say, belief can be suspended a bit farther than normal to make it easier to swallow...depends on the reader.

but I was dissatisfied with there being no twists...I was hoping for a big twist at the end, like a different killer than is alluded to all the way through, lol! but ah well...I do not think I will read more Josephine Tey, but i agree that her writing style was was just not a compelling story...I do not think I am deluding myself into thinking that there are many more excellent gothics out there to fill my free time with!
I have a question for anyone who has read this book, and do not read on if you do not want to read


Am I missing I right about the fact that Tey does not explain exactly HOW Simon killed Patrick during a day that he was supposed to be at the blacksmiths all day long?

I kept waiting for something more than "I've got it" and then nothing...or did I miss this??

This is the very short recap given in the end: So the problem of Simon was settled. Simon, who, before he was fourteen, had killed his brother, calmly written a note on that brother's behalf, tossed the pen into the abyss after his brother's body, and gone home calmly to six o'clock supper when he was chased out of the smithy. Who had joined the night search for his brother on his pony, and some time during that long night had taken his brother's coat to the cliff-top and left it there with the note in the pocket.

I'm not sure how to read this correctly. Either Simon killed Patrick in the early afternoon, right after Abel spoke to Patrick, and then went to the smithy. Or everything happened in the time between leaving the smithy's and going home to supper.
He wasn't at the blacksmith's all day: Saturday afternoon was a holiday for the Ashby children and they were accustomed in the summer to take a "piece" with them and pursue their various interests in the countryside until it was time to come home to their evening meal.
Simon's alibi was sufficient when people suspected Patrick had been thrown off the cliff, but the quarry is much closer to the blacksmith's.

He had remembered that odd relaxing on Simon's part the moment he had had a good look at himself. That suggestion of relief. Of being "let off." So that was it! Simon had been afraid that it was Patrick. When he found that he was faced with a mere impostor he must have had difficulty in refraining from embracing him.
I think Simon just pushed Patrick, alive, over the edge, because he was afraid that perhaps Patrick had survived the fall, which could have happened: Abel knew all about the quarry because he had once rescued a sheep from it.

That's all. I agree Josephine Tey could have been a bit more explicit. Usually the murderer can't wait to tell all after he has been found out, which could have easily been done during the fight between Brat and Simon at the quarry's edge.
thanks, Charybdis...very good of you!


I was so waiting for the satisfaction of an "aha" moment, especially after Brat's big revelation about how he envisioned Simon was able to do know, just prior to his going to the rector to confess and share his theory about it...when it never came, it seemed conceivable that I had missed something even though I was looking for it...but I guess I did not, lol!

well, anyway, I'm onto a Barbara Michaels book now, so hopefully I'll have an aha moment with her, lol!

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