Monday, March 12, 2012

The Spanish Gardener by A.J. Cronin

While I haven't read all seventeen novels by Archibald Joseph Cronin, known as A.J. Cronin, the Scottish physician and prolific writer, among the ones I have read Beyond This Place, The Citadel, Hatter's Castle, Grand Canary and Shannon's Way are my favourites.
My first A.J. Cronin novel was Beyond This Place which I read soon after high school. I was deeply impressed by the good physician's writing style and story-telling, simple and lucid. In this novel, written in 1953, Paul Mathry, a young student, goes in search of his father who is wrongly convicted for murder.

Cronin wrote about the middle-class and for the middle-class. His stories were poignant and captured the pathos of daily life, in situations and surroundings familiar to us. Most of his novels were about love and relationships, and reflected the importance he attached to families and family life.

Towards the end of last year, I read the 157-page The Spanish Gardener (1950) where Cronin introduces you to one of his most intense, and unforgettable, characters — Harrington Brande — a proud British diplomat posted somewhere in Spain. After his wife walks out of their marriage, Brande becomes possessive about his son, Nicholas, who he brings up in a closed environment, away from the influences of the outside world. Brande is so insanely jealous about his son's love for him that he destroys the innocent friendship between Nicholas and Jose, the charismatic gardener, who is framed for theft and dies in the end. 

A.J. Cronin
The Spanish Gardener, which was made into a film in 1956, starring Dick Bogarde as Jose, is the story of a man whose love destroyed everything it touched. When his wife tells him that she wants a separation, Brande hits back, "If you go, I'll never take you back... You'll have no money, no position, nothing. And you'll have no hand, none, in bringing up our child." 

The story revolves mainly around the struggle between father and son. In the end the son tells his father that he wishes to see his mother and stay with her. "...there is no doubt I should spend some time with mother. That is only all of us," Nicholas, matured by years, says quietly, as his father listens, stunned and speechless. Brande, who evokes pity and loathing at the same time, knows he has lost again.

Cronin was one of the most popular storytellers of his time, and many of his novels were made into successful films.

A.J. Cronin's seventeen novels

01. Hatter's Castle
02. Three Loves
03. Grand Canary
04. The Stars Look Down
05. The Citadel
06. The Keys of the Kingdom
07. The Green Years
08. Shannon's Way
09. The Spanish Gardener
10. Beyond This Place
11. A Thing of Beauty/Crusader's Tomb
12. The Northern Light
13. The Native Doctor/An Apple in Eden
14. The Judas Tree
15. A Song of Sixpence
16. A Pocketful of Rye
17. The Minstrel Boy/Desmonde


  1. I've read something by him. Did he also write short stories? I've heard of the name of course though I don't recall reading any of his novels.

  2. Charles, A.J. Cronin has written short stories too but I haven't read any so far. I'd place him in the same league as Frank G. Slaughter, Lloyd C. Douglas and Nevil Shute among others. Eminently readable.

  3. Nicely reviewed. I remember Cronin from my youth and recognize titles on the list but don't remember reading him. The Nevil Shute novel I remember is ON THE BEACH. I'm looking for the Bogarde movie to see if it's available anywhere.

  4. Ron, thanks very much. I liked Cronin's narrative style of writing. I read his novels very early and remember not being able to put them down till I'd turned the last page. While I have read many of his novels, I don't think I have seen the film versions. I'm currently reading Nevil Shute's BEYOND THE STUMP and intend to review it soon.