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Brother of the More Famous Jack: Book Summary

Here is a piece I wrote for my course last week. The requirement was to read the book and write a 1000-word piece about the book. A precis of the novel if you like. I have written more of an opinionated summary of the book.

I picked the book Brother of the More Famous Jack because I had heard the author's style (Barbara Trapido) is similar to Jane Austen, an author I like.

Hopefully I didnt upset too many of Barbara Trapido's fans. That was not the intention.

Brother of the More Famous Jack is the story of Katherine Browne, a pretty English girl, stepping into adulthood in and around 1970s. She is the daughter of a single mother, who wants nothing more than for her daughter to find a good husband and be merry. It starts as she is getting ready to go to university as a Philosophy student in her teenage years right the way through to her thirties. The story is told through the eyes of Katherine, such that you live through the joys and pains that Kathrine experiences through the years. It was published first in 1982.

The story begins with Katherine meeting and sleeping with John Millet, a stereotypical gay forty something man. I felt Katherine was pushing herself towards John to be different and go against the wish of her mother. Description of John Millet is also our first glimpse of what is to come in the book, over-exaggerated characters that appear right across the book.

Through John Millet, she comes to meet the Goldman family; Jacob, a university professor, which becomes Katherine’s teacher and mentor at University, and his wife, Jane, who has been dissed by her family for marrying a Jewish man, plus their 5, soon to be 6, children. Katherine and the family quickly fall in love, and a large chunk of the book builds around her relationship with the family. Katherine spends a lot of time in the family home in Surrey, and in particular with Jane. Jane is, along most passages, a loveable character and a female role model and good friend for Katherine. Jacob is an odd character who loves his wife and thinks very highly of Katherine.

This story line here flows very nicely and you start enjoying the banter and sharpness the author gives to the dialogues and the characters. Katherine soon starts going out with Roger, the elder of the family’s two sons, Roger and Jonathan.

Although Katherine is madly in love with Roger, a student at Oxford, he soon starts criticising everything she does and breaks up with her after a while. This sends Katherine into a downward spiral, and although she graduates from university, she is very upset, goes back to John Millet, and through him, finds connections and moves to Italy as a English language teacher, for a fresh start.

The first year or so of Katherine’s life in Italy is spent living with a few questionable characters with little moral fibre, when she apparently gets through 30 men to get over Roger. Soon afterwards she moves in with a middle aged Italian man, Michele and spends the next six years with him. She seems in love with Michele and his odd character although she questions a lof of his behaviours such as his jealousy.

Katherine and Michele split up after Katherine gets pregnant and does not want to abort the baby against Michele's wish. The childbirth has complications, and the child, a girl, passes away after a month. This is the first time I started feeling for Katherine. Until this point, she had come across as a silly little child, who wants to be different at any cost.

The loss of her baby, understandably, bring Katherine back to England, and into a mental institution. Once discharged, she gets back in touch with the Goldman family, who are delighted to receive her back. Jane and Jacob are now much older and have moved to North London. Roger is now a junior fellow in one of the Oxford colleges, and married with children. Jonathan, the younger brother, who is now trying to be writer, expresses interest in Katherine, and they soon start a relationship. Next few chapters are covered with crude sexual scenes and references, which any reader can safely skip without missing a single piece of the plot.

Now that Katherine is settled with Jonathan, we see another angle to Katherine’s strong will as she starts a knitting business, which picks up very well. The story ends happily with Katherine supporting Jonathan through her knitting business, marrying him, having a baby, and with them moving to Ireland to start a new life together.

Throughout the book, we are treated to a heap of sexism, racism and prejudice against religion. These scenes, comments and jokes really put me off the book and add very little to the story line. The only explanation I see is the author’s attempt to bring to attention some of the issues that minorities faced, and still face. If that is the case, I question whether such issues scattered in a story about our young Katherine have the expected impact.

Various reviews and commentaries compare Barbara Trapido’s work with Jane Austen’s. I admit this is the only book I have read by Barbara Trapido, but I could not disagree more with this comparison. Jane Austen’s wit is powerful and charming, whereas I found Trapido’s writing and brand of sarcasm cheap and crude, filled with irrelevant passages. Jane Austen writes about strong female characters who defied what was common 200 years ago and are still relevant today. Characters you can get behind and will onwards, even if you disagree with them. Whereas Brother of the More Famous Jack’s characters, female or male, were annoying, vulgar and instantly forgettable.

Given what I had to suffer through to enjoy some of the excellent passages in the text, I would not recommend Brother of the More Famous Jack. I wish I had read Sense and Sensibility for a third time instead.

Posted on 21 Dec 2013, 9:48 p.m.

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