We follow the life and loves of Katherine in a warm and cozy novel, which starts with her being interviewed for a university place by Jacob Goldman. And thus does Katherine fall in with this somewhat eccentric family comprising the said Jacob, a larger-than-life professor-cum-patriarch figure, his beautiful and loving wife, Jane, who is from a very typically middle class English background, and their numerous children (six in fact).
In summary, and without giving too much away, the heroine falls for Mr Wrong, then for Mr Lovable Rogue and finally for Mr Probably Right. There is heartache and tragedy along the way. There are literary and cultural references aplenty. But there is mostly a wonderful collection of character drawings, vignettes from life in England (and Italy) in the 1970s, and little flashes of wistful reflection on life, love, the universe.
I can’t say it better than Rachel Cusk, who wrote in the Introduction to the edition I read that Brother of the More Famous Jack is “Among other things, the story of Katherine, only child of a prim Hendon widow, and her dealings with the Goldman family, an eight-strong, lavishly obscene, bohemian tribe captained by a kindly Jewish intellectual, is a portrait of a particular England: the middle-class England of unsung diversity and moral confusion, whose denizens are forever struggling to establish definitions of right and wrong in everything from art to sexual politics.”
It’s all of that, and mostly, it’s a really good read.