Brother of the More Famous Jack, written in 1982, is the highly-acclaimed, debut novel of Barbara Trapido. It is a novel that has received critical success and is still considered highly relevant more than thirty years later. I’d never heard of it and thought it was a newish release; in fact, I largely decided to buy it because when I was at the bookstore I was pretty hungover and wanted something that wouldn’t require a huge amount of brain power. No Tolstoy for me that day, thank you very much.
Brother of the More Famous Jack is a coming-of-age novel centred around recently graduated Katherine. Stylish, beautiful and smart, Katherine becomes wrapped up in the rambling, eccentric family of her professor, Jacob Goldman, who has six children with his sharp-tongued wife, Jane.
While Katherine becomes entangled with the Goldman family she also starts dating their oldest son Roger, who despite being beautiful and brilliant, is also snobbish, cold and elitist. When he eventually rejects Katherine, she moves abroad until ten years later when she returns home and once more faces the Goldmans
As I wrote at the beginning of this post, Brother of the More Famous Jack has gained critical acclaim far and wide for being a thought-provoking coming-of-age novel. After completing it, I could see why: Barbara Trapido’s writing is fluid and emotive – it engulfs the reader so that they too almost become part of the story. Whole pages would flip past and it was almost a surprise when I turned over the last page – not because of the conclusion of the novel, but simply because I had managed to finish it so quickly. Basically, Trapido has succeeded in writing an intelligent novel that is a breeze to read. Hallelujah says my hungover self.
One of the other distinctive quirks I enjoyed about Brother of the More Famous Jack was the distinct lack of likeable characters – or, I should, stereotypical likeable characters. Though Katherine is beautiful and stylish, she is also weak-minded, shallow and dismissive of her family (although in saying that, at age 18, which of us aren’t a tad weak-minded, shallow or dismissive or our family?). And although the Goldmans definitely have an allure, they’re also a family that are simultaneously disordered, unclean, bickering and elitist. Yet despite all the major flaws of these characters, as a reader I still became immersed in their world – and although I disagreed with many, if not most, of their actions, I still also felt compelled to continue turning those pages to find out what happened to them all.
The only drawback to this novel though was that Katherine was constantly domineered by the men in her life, and for a novel that has the makings to be a great feminist manifesto, it was sadly disappointing. First Katherine is overwhelmed by Jacob Goldman himself, then his son Roger, who despite apparently being liberal, thinks it’s perfectly accepted to tell Katherine how to dress, what make up to wear and to look down on her for being into something as petty as fashion. I mean, excuse me, but what? And yet Katherine goes along with it all. I would like to argue that it’s due to her age, but as we see with her partner in Rome and even Jonathan, she is constantly manipulated into doing things for her partner’s sake, rather than her own. (There is one exception of course, but I don’t want to say it as it will give away a large part of the plot.)
Overall though, Brother of the More Famous Jack is a witty, sharp and intelligent novel. For an easy read that will still keep you hooked, I’d definitely recommend this book.
Have you read Brother of the More Famous Jack or any thing by Barbara Trapido? Let me know!