Friday, November 1, 2013

The third novel by Katherine Farrer

Katherine Farrer :  Morte di un Fantasma (Gownsman’s Gallows, 1957) – trad. Mario Rivoire – I Romanzi del Corriere N.40 del 1 aprile 1958.

Katherine (Newton) Farrer , is a name unknown to most. She wrote only three novels : The Missing Link ( 1952) , The Cretan Counterfeit ( 1954) and Gownsman 's Gallows (1957).
Katherine was born in 1911 in Wiltshire, and you can tell that all her life gravitated into the environment of Oxford, where she attended school , and then where she taught . The fact that her father, F.H.J. Newton was an Anglican pastor , led her to marry one of the greatest Anglicans theologians of the twentieth century , Austin Farrer , who taught at Oxford until his death in 1968.
Austin and Katherine were part of the Inklings , a group of scholars who disliked scientific materialism , formed among others by JRR Tolkien , by the poet and novelist Charles Williams , Dorothy L. Sayers and CS Lewis.

Dorothy Sayers

Unfortunately Farrer often suffered from pneumonia and bronchitis , all exacerbated by a heavy smoking habit . For this habit, she drank alcoholics and she took barbiturates , ending early in her career as a writer. She died in 1972.[1]
Gownsman 's Gallows is her third and final novel.

The novel begins with two brothers who walk in their car outside of the Oxford College , where studied Tim Dawson - Gowner . At some point feel a jolt and then the older brother of the two, Nigel , he sees a man lying on the road : someone is passed over. While he doesn’t believes that may have been his brother to kill him, he convinces him to flee to France , and he shall burn the corpse in a barn . However, the body does not burn completely : you can store your feet . What does the Inspector Ringwood , in charge of the investigation ? He makes his bitch Ratter smell the feet of the dead, so the bitch can take him where supposedly the man was killed , because no one thinks that the barn could be the site of the murder .
The fact is that the socks seem to lead to a gentleman, that is a student at Oxford , but for the time of presumed murder he has an airtight alibi . He often reveals he had loaned his clothings to another person, which in turn will prove being a blackmailer . His traces will lead in France , so even Ringwood embarks to turn .
In Touraine he met a French policeman , Monsieur Kehidiou, who promises full cooperation . Ringwood, is almost convinced that the victim is Despuys but in France seeking endorsements to his thesis . He learns that his sister lives there , a woman  who is a whore, outcast from the local community , because, during the II World War, she had become the woman of a torturer of partisans , Maxime Fleurat , an ex- professor . Everything seems to bring him, that someone said to have fled to England. But Nigel is also active in France , with a strange kind of place : during the war he was an infiltrator in the English resistance, but after the war he was found full of money : someone insinuates that the escape of Fleurat can be linked to his strange enrichment.

Meanwhile the French policeman and Ringwood investigate , a tramp who the day before they had seen at the guardhouse , is found dead ... and naked : his clothes were stolen. Who could ever take the rags of a tramp ? Meanwhile, is questioned the sister of Despuys and while they interrogate her , Ringwood has the impression that there is someone in the house, upstairs. But when they search the house, they can not find anyone . The fact is that she hides her ex lover, reappeared after years on the run . She is afraid but at the same time she hide him. She will die, and Maxime will take her savings, that she had hidded in a hole in the cabinet .

In a frantic final,  all truth will be spilled over again, even doubting that the victim in Oxford was Despuys , and that the man who everyone think can be Fleurat, be another . The solution will appear as a distant ray of light , mingling to the knowledge of Fleurat about the Oxfordian environment .
Novel “river”, which begins in tone , with a style sometimes too redundant , then take pace and continue with a march shipped until the final solution ,
Gownsman’s Gallows is a tight procedural , with more the movements of a thriller than those of a novel with enigma , but extremely complex : the writer melees events of the war , espionage, blackmail , noir, in a plot very spectacular . It would seem the plot of a post-war French film , a film by Marcel Carné , so the characters seem distraught . There is also a love story between Nigel and Juliette in France , and hints very free-range , such as when the dog smells the feet of the corpse : a mixture of fetishism and necrophilia , we would say , that would seem not be easily reconciled with a person like Katherine Farrer , daughter of a theologian and wife of a theologian. But yet this irreverent picture, gives freshness at the beginning of novel that it would seem tedious.
Interesting is the Oxfordian setting , but not too much. Before her, from Dorothy L. Sayers to Edmund Crispin , from Masterman to Blake , several Oxfordian writers had written novels . However, if some of them are masters at depicting the life of the college, and its environments (i.e. Crispin and Masterman ) , the Farrer is at her ease in describing everyday life.
To give freshness and at the same time marry the territoriality of the Ringwood French trip in Touraine, several dialogues are in French . This is also a consequence of the fact that much of the book takes place in a territory not English. However, if it is true that does not make much sense to write a sentence in French and one hundred in English, it is also true that Katherine Farrer liked the French, and that she cunningly hid some clue in french dialogues. If Jacques Barzun , about the subject of the novel, expressed in relation to a use of French language  not quite correct (and this is undoubtedly true ) , you also must say that a form not quite exact , gives immediacy to the dialogues , as if they were been written thinking to talking instead of writing.
Furthermore, cleaved deeply human and sad , accompany equally humorous glimpses, for example those related to the relationship between Ringwood and his bitch, or
the strange methods of investigation by Ringwood (even though the result of his innate acumen) as opposed to those rigorous by the French police, proud of its organization and of anthropometric informations contained in its files.

Pietro De Palma

[1] More informations to :

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