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Brother of the More Famous Jack by Barbara Trapido - Review

Thursday, February 3, 2022


This is one of the books that I got in the Book Flood swap from Alex at Christmas. I was immediately intrigued by the premise, so picked this up really early in the year. When I posted the photo on my Instagram, my friend Janet commented that she read all Trapido's novels at the same time she was reading early Patrick Gale and that she felt they had a similar vibe. This was interesting to me, as one of my favourite books is Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale, which Janet knows, so I was interested to read someone similar. Then Alex commented that that was WHY she had chosen this book - that she had googled authors similar to Patrick Gale and saw Barbara Trapido recommended. I love this! And I think there is a hint of Gale about this book, but I also like the similarity given on the back, that it is like Brideshead Revisited. 

I read Brideshead Revisited on holiday when I was fifteen. My parents took me and my friend R camping in France, and we shared a tiny tent and drank too much Martini and lemonade and I fell in love with Charles and Sebastian and Julia. Charles in Brideshead is thrust into a world completely unfamiliar to his own, with much posher people, with class rules and systems that he doesn't understand. And so the same happens with Katherine in this book.

She is interviewed at the beginning by Jacob Goldman, a philosophy lecturer at UCL (I think!), and given a place on the course, even though she has dismal A level results (three Es). She impresses Jacob with some chat about E M Forster, and is pleased to get a place. She then meets a man called John Millet, who is much older than her and who her mother decides immediately is gay. He takes Katherine to the Sussex countryside to meet his friend Jane. 

Jane turns out to be Jacob's wife, and she is about to have their sixth child. The family house is filthy, and in much disarray, and the wall by the phone has all kinds of messages written on it. Jane spends a lot of time doing the garden. John is disgusted that she is pregnant with her sixth child, but Jane and Jacob are completely unapologetic about it.

There's Roger, who is the same age as Katherine and who is about to head off on a gap year to Africa. Roger is pretty, but quite clueless about life in general. Next is Jonathan, who has inherited his dad's looks, but who is charming, and clearly Jane's favourite. There's Rosie, aged nine, who adores Katherine. Then there's the twins, Samuel and Alice, who are only about three. And the new baby on her way. 

The house is bohemian and unconventional. Jacob is Jewish, the grandson of a German butcher. The book is set in the mid 1960s, meaning Jacob and his mother both escaped the Holocaust, but his grandfather did not survive. Jacob is eccentric and clearly wildly in love with Jane. Jane's family are Anglo-Irish and they disowned her when she got pregnant by Jacob when only around eighteen herself. Her parents do stay in touch with the children, though. 

Like in Brideshead Revisited, it's hard to decide who Katherine likes the most. She starts a relationship with Roger after his return from Africa, but is unceremoniously dumped by him just before she takes her final exams. She is certain she'll fail her degree, but Jacob reassures her otherwise. 

She goes off to Italy to teach English, and there meets Michele, who is married. She lives with him for more than six years and has his baby. But then tragedy occurs and she ends up back in England and back in the Goldman house. So much has changed, but Katherine finds herself drawn back into the bosom of the family.

I loved this book, I loved all the characters and understood why Katherine found herself drawn to the Goldmans. I liked her a lot too, though. I'm giving this five out of five and I've already put another of Trapido's books on hold at the library!

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