Books: “Brother of the More Famous Jack” by Barbara Trapido
It’s hard to imagine a luckier young woman than Katharine, the protagonist of Barbara Trapido’s 1982 novel “Brother of the More Famous Jack.” A child of humble beginnings (her father was the local greengrocer in a provincial English hamlet), she is granted the opportunity to study philosophy with Jacob Goldman, a furry, boisterous, lefty professor from London’s East End. And then her real life begins.
The novel, a bildungsroman of a sheltered young woman’s encounter with the wider world, is comedy gold. Katharine doesn’t just get the pleasure of Jacob’s company but that of his eccentric, fractious family. That includes Jane, Jacob’s long-suffering wife, who tends to her garden, and tussles with her male chauvinist husband; Jacob’s shy but beautiful son, Roger (who goes to Oxford and quietly sweeps Katharine off her feet); and his fiery brother Jonathan, who plays the flute and swears at his mum. Katharine also meets John Millet, the debonair, stylish family friend who happens to be gay.
Trapido’s droll prose, reminiscent of Swift and Wilde, shows why her works are long-listed for the Man Booker as well as other fiction prizes. And it can explain why a book like “More Famous Jack” can transport you from Rome to Hampstead Heath without your raising an eyebrow. For anyone who’s ever fancied themselves a world adventurer, this novel is great escapist fare. Passport not required.