Courage to Change: Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

Brat Farrar 2

“If a book leaves you exactly where it found you, thinking and feeling nothing you hadn’t felt or thought before, you are no different for having read it. The criterion for a memorable book is the hope of rereading it some day and a passion to share the book with someone else.” Glady Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

So many wonderful books would be hidden from our knowledge without the enthusiastic recommendation of a dear friend or relative. A novel that has remained on my personal “Top Ten” list for over twenty years came from just that source. Years ago, Margaret Turner, in her eighties and legally blind, passed on to me a tattered anthology of mystery novels by Josephine Tey. Brat Farrar was my favorite. First published in 1949 and set in rural England, it is a mystery without the standard corpse on the hearthrug and polite police inspector. Instead, it is a masterpiece of deep themes, clearly defined characters, and building suspense.

The main character, Brat Farrar, is a young man with many flaws and a “checkered” past. As the story starts, Brat agrees to pose as the heir to a fortune for personal financial gain. Clearly, this is an immoral choice. Yet, all through the story, I felt a kinship with him. His motivation gets challenged early on in his deception. He experiences “a faint queasiness, a sort of spiritual indigestion” (p. 121) that leads to profound change during the course of the novel. This is definitely not one of those books with static characters who never learn or grow. Instead, I find inspiration that we, too, are able to be transformed.

Also, Tey interweaves a beautiful theme about our need to belong throughout the story. Brat, an orphan, is motivated by this visceral human impulse: “No one else had taken his hand in just that way. Casual — no, not possessive… Belonging. It had something to do with belonging. The hand had taken him for granted because he belonged. It was the unthinking friendliness of a woman to one of her family. Was it because he had never ‘belonged’ before that made that commonplace gesture into a benediction?” (p. 158)

This mystery novel is chock-full of charming, intricate characters: the rector, George Peck, is described as being ugly, but possessing great kindness and wisdom: “One of George Peck’s charms was that he listened to what was said to him.” (p. 202), Aunt Bee holds the family together and shows Brat undeserved kindness. Then there is Simon, Brat’s rival for the family fortune and Eleanor, the “sister” who is Brat’s dream girl . The plot twists, turns and culminates in a riveting denouement.

Elizabeth MacIntosh

Elizabeth MacIntosh aka Josephine Tey

My proof that I love this novel is that I have read it four times! Josephine Tey, is one of the pen names for Elizabeth MacKintosh who, sadly, died at an early age. Thankfully, most of her novels are still in print, though, alas, sometimes not available at the local library.  The following are the novels written under the name Josephine Tey, some starring Inspector Grant:  Brat Farrar, A Shilling for Candles, To Love and Be Wise, The Man in the Queue, A Daughter of Time, The Singing Sands, Miss Pym Disposes, and The Franchise Affair.  The author also wrote plays under the nom de plume Gordon Daviot.

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Categories: British novels, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Courage to Change: Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

  1. I love Josephine Tey. My favourite is Daughter of Time. I am a committed Ricardian, and so to find a sympathetic view of Richard III was really marvellous. I read it ages ago and have re-read it and recommended it to many friends. I agree that a book should stay with you and change your perspective to qualify as a good read. I recommend This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson (the late brother of the more famous Emma). A truly marvellous book about The Voyage of the Beagle, but not for once about its famous passenger, but about its mercurial Captain (later Admiral) Robert Fitzroy

  2. How fun and what perfect timing! We are about to head out to an old family vacation home in West Texas that we haven’t been to in years. I am almost positive there are some novels by Josephine Tey out there. I’ll check the shelves and look forward to reading them.

  3. Your review got me so excited because my son just gave me Brat Farrar, Daughter of Time and Miss Pym Disposes. Can’t wait to read Brat Farrar now!

    • oh yes! What a special gift from your son. Did he read and love them, too? The Franchise Affair is my second favorite of hers, though Miss Pym is wonderful as is Daughter of Time (Inspector Grant is ill and to keep himself from going stir crazy he solves an ancient mystery).

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