REVIEW: Mr. Finchley Goes to Paris by Victor Canning
Book 2 of the classic trilogy of humorous adventures
An ebullient Mr Finchley is about to propose marriage to a lady he had rescued from mishap, when he is sent to Paris by his firm.
There he manages to upset a boat, adopt a stray orphan and get himself kidnapped. The fine tangle he gets into takes some unravelling! Only when eventually back in London does he complete the proposal of marriage that was interrupted at the start.
Jerome Jerome meets Mr Bean in this gentle comedy series, which was a runaway bestseller on first publication in the 1930s and retains a timeless appeal today. It has been dramatized twice for BBC Radio, with the 1990 series regularly repeated.
Last month I read the first book in the first book in the Mr. Finchley trilogy and was charmed. Like another reviewer, I think the more time that one spends with Mr. Finchley, the more one comes to love him.
In the first book, Edgar Finchley went on a three week vacation around England and in doing so, discovered more about his country and himself. People wandered and drifted into and out of his life but he was the main character and everything was seen from his middle aged point of view. In this story, things are a bit different.
Now it’s been another year since then and in the meantime, Mr. Finchley has been keeping company with a lovely widow. He’s finally decided to make a solemn and dignified proposal. Yet it is almost as if Mrs. Crantell is aware of his intentions and decides to speak of how people their age are set in their ways and unable to change. Taking what he imagines is her gentle dissuasion, Mr. Finchley does not propose. Perhaps she is right and they would only end up dissatisfied as well as having lost their friendship.
His hearty, avuncular boss decides to send Mr. Finchley to Paris for a few days to meet with a rich client – a client rich enough that the firm goes to him and waits on his schedule. As in the earlier story, Mr. Finchley is soon meeting new people including a glasses wearing entomologist with something strange in his coat pocket. In reading the description, we get a bit of Canning’s gently humorous writing.
“I don’t know the name of them,” replied Mr. Finchley, “but they are rather large black ones with white spots along their backs. If you twist your head around you’ll be able to see the one on your shoulder.”
At this the young man jerked his head round and found himself staring at the first caterpillar, which had now reached its objective and was looking for fresh worlds to conquer. For a moment the young man squinted at the caterpillar, and the caterpillar, anxious to establish the friendliness of its intentions, raised the fore part of its body and salaamed.
I laughed and could just see this gentle creature raising up and arching over, politely establishing relations.
Soon Mr. Finchley is taking in Paris and showing that the lessons he learned during his earlier trip around England have not been lost on him. After surviving the determination of the French porter in Calais and then the insanity of the Paris taxi driver –
He had heard a lot about Paris taxi-drivers, but he soon discovered that his knowledge was incomplete. The driver interpreted Mr. Finchley’s desire to reach the Hôtel Achille as a personal challenge that he could not reach the hotel in fifty seconds under the record. He also gave the impression that all other traffic had entered into a conspiracy to hinder him in his vindication of his prowess.
– Mr. Finchley soon happily steps out in the Parisian evening, enjoying the sights, sounds and experience. Though he discovers that despite summoning his best French, the French will always answer him in English. It is after being swept into a free-for-all fistfight in a square that follows a political demonstration, that Mr. Finchley’s life will be changed again.
No matter what comes his way, one is always sure that Mr. Finchley will manage to overcome it, right it, fix it and gently help it along. I will warn that there is one little bit (a quarter of a page) that occurs which is a product of its age. Mr. Finchley’s orphan has been reading Wild West magazines and, while dressed in a blanket (he’d lost his trousers) and resembling “a red Indian,” he speaks two sentences in “Native American” pigeon English.
In proceeding through his adventures, Mr. Finchley discovers that maybe he’s not too old to change. Perhaps he’s just coming to some momentous events a bit later in life than many of his fellows but he’s still capable of meeting the challenges. Can he triumph over the last obstacle in his path to wedded bliss and help give a young boy a future – as well as giving another romance a gentle nudge? Of course, he’s Mr. Finchley.
Enjoy this gentle trip back to days gone by with mild mannered, middle aged Mr. Finchley and the new cast of characters. B+