What if I Capture the Castle were adapted and updated, set in the 1970s and ’80s? What if the narrator, Katherine Browne, were another bookish and naive heroine whose horizons were broadened by a confusing tribe that included several fascinating men… but in this new book, lots of sex occurred, too? What if the author, Barbara Trapido, had a brilliant eye for the telling detail? For instance, I laughed out loud on the subway at this sentence on page 2: “He had hair to match his eyebrows sprouting, intimidatingly, like sofa stuffing from the neck of his open shirt.”
Well, obviously, you’d be reading Brother of the More Famous Jack. The title comes from a joke about William Butler Yeats, the kind of joke that sends the Goldman clan into fits of giggles. What’s not to like about a family that has in-jokes about Yeats? Certainly Katherine is smitten from the very start. Jacob, the paterfamilias, is a hairy, brilliant, warm-hearted German-Jewish refugee who ended up married to the beautiful aristocratic Jane. Jake is Katherine’s university tutor but she is brought to stay with the Goldmans by the divine, older, and bisexual John Millet. There are two Goldman sons, Roger and Jonathan, and since they are closer to Katherine in age, we shouldn’t be surprised that she ends up falling in love.
OK, this isn’t earth-shaking stuff and it’s not especially new, either, but I sure did enjoy my time spent with these clever, literate folk. Katherine, our narrator, is capable of cleverness like this: “Jonathan in a black pullover, I considered, would look like the God of Thunder with a migraine.”
Appealing? Then get hold of the book. It won’t be easy — mine came from the UK. Barbara Trapido‘s books seem to be out of print in the US and not available as ebooks. Oh, the injustice of the contemporary publishing world!
But to cheer us up, here’s a further bulletin on Jacob Goldman’s hair. Katherine goes to the beach with the family —
On the pebbles where we stripped to our bathers, I discovered that Jacob’s chest hair continued black and copious over his shoulders and all the way down his back. It grew in tight curls along the breast bone and straightened out over the shoulders where it lay in smooth two-inch lengths. I stared at him surreptitiously, like a kid sizing up a hunchback.
‘Say,’ Jane said, who had noticed my gaping, ‘you really are most immoderately and unnaturally hirsute, aren’t you, my husband?'”
Do people talk like that in real life? I don’t care, as long as I can read about them doing so in novels like this one.