Thursday, July 30, 2009

Brat Farrar by Josphine Tey

Reading Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson recently, which of course features crime writer Josephine Tey, I was reminded of Tey's Brat Farrar. I have read and enjoyed this book several times but I decided it was time for another re-read.

Orphan Brat Farrar returns to England after a number of years absence. He is seen on the streets of London by Alec Loding and mistaken for Simon Ashby, a young man from Loding's home village. When Loding realises Brat is not Simon he immediately forms plans for a scam. Simon Ashby is about to celebrate his 21st and inherit his dead father's estate. This event would not be happening except for the mysterious disappearance of Simon's elder twin brother Patrick some years earlier when they were still boys. Loding persuades Brat to impersonate the missing Patrick, take his place and inherit instead of Simon. Brat should then send Loding a regular income for his help in coaching Brat on Patrick's life. Loding had been well placed to observe the Ashbys over the years as the families were very close.

Despite the scamming premise of the book the reader's sympathies are immediately with orphan Brat. He is not a man without morals (unlike Loding who is defrauding people he knows well) and takes some persuading to join in the scam. His descent into joining Loding's plan is slow and believable. We see Brat's inner self wrestle with his lack of belonging, his need for a family and for a place in the world. His only emotional anchor is his love for horses, with whom he worked in the USA after he left the orphnage, and it is this that is his undoing. Loding reveals the Ashbys are horse breeders and Brat is won over. He can't resist any more.

The playing out of family loyalties and personalities when the bombshell of Patrick's reappearance in their lives explodes is masterly. Beatrice Ashby, the aunt who brought up the Ashby children after the death of her brother and his wife, and who has spent years being haunted by images of what may have happened to Patrick, is one of my favourite literary characters. Her world is torn apart by Brat's arrival but even on the day she meets him, still unsure that he is not an impostor she is compassion through and through:

She turned at the door to say goodbye. he was standing in th middle of the room watching her go, leaving Mr Sandal to shepherd her out. he looked remote and lonely. And she thought; "If this is patrick, Patrick come home again, and I am leaving him like this, as if her were a casual acquaintance -". It was more than she could bear, the thought of the boy's loneliness.

She went back to him, took his face lightly in her gloved hand, and kissed his cheek. "Welcome back my dear, " she said.

And this in the end, a family, is all Brat craves. But he is now committed to being an impostor but from the inside he is the first person to really be in a position to solve the mystery of what really happened to the missing Patrick Ashby. How Tey resolves the difficulties Brat has got himself into, and manages the new emotional ties he forms, is a delight to watch.

A lovely book combining the same warmth, insight and intrigue as The Franchise Affair.
The first image of Brat Farrar above is from the modern paperback. I re-read my own copy a Pan paperback which you can see here:

This copy was purchased a few years ago from the lovely Mike and Ann Sims from A Book for All Reasons whose site is an excellent resource for early twentieth century fiction, especially Georgette Heyer. I love the stylised cover art here: the young man shadowy at the back has taken a petulant stance that looks more like he is in trouble for not eating his greens than he looks angry at the return of a usurper to his inheritance!

On a related note: does anyone remember seeing the BBC adaptation of this, modernised I think, in the 1980s. It stared Mark Greenstreet who was brilliant as both Brat and Simon Ashby. Why oh why have the Beeb never put this out on video or DVD. With the mini Tey revival going on at the moment I can't think of a better time for them to let us watch it again.
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