I read this book as part of the Italy in Books and LGBT reading challenges 2011!
By Barbara Trapido
Winner of the Whitbread Special Prize for Fiction, Brother of the More Famous Jack is a coming-of-age novel centred on 18-year-old Katherine. Approached in a bookshop by the queer John Millet, who takes a shine on her and introduces her to the Goldmans.
Jacob Goldman is going to be Katherine philosophy professor at university and he leads an extremely messy family life in the Sussex countryside, where he lives with his wife Jane and their six children. Despite her initial apprehension, Katherine is soon drawn to this unconventional household and ends up falling in love with Roger, the couple’s eldest son.
Katherine is in awe of him but, on his part, Roger doesn’t consider her to be his equal and, once he moves to Oxford to continue his studies, he breaks up with her. Feeling lost, Katherine turns to John Millet, whom she knows spent some time living in Italy, and asks him for help. With his support, she decides to experience life abroad and travels to Rome, where she will teach English and start a relationship with an Italian man.
Her Italian life, however, doesn’t have a happy ending. On her return to England, she seeks out the Goldmans and re-establishes that long-lost relationship with the professor and his family. A relationship capable of evolving and adapting to the changes that all of them have gone through during the years.
I did enjoy this book but I didn’t feel a connection to any of the characters. I wasn’t moved or particularly amused at any given time. In fact, I was a little annoyed by the portrayals of both John Millet and Italians. The former, true to his queerness, loves fashion, good food and good-looking boys and girls. The latter can’t handle a girl in mini-skirt, are too attached to their mothers, expect only ignorance and brutality from the police, are superstitious and are obsessed with their anti-clericalism, whichever their political ideologies.
I understand that the author had to describe a minor character in a book which has a rather large cast and had to give a sense of the Italian location in the space of a few chapters but I felt that stereotypes could have been reined in a little.