My Brother’s Keeper

My Brother’s Keeper by Tim Powers

Head of Zeus, pb, £9.19

Reviewed by John Dodd

A tale of the Brontes, but unlike any tale you’ve ever heard of them before, Brothers Keeper is the story of all the Brontes, Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and lesser known Branwell. 

All stories hide within them some element of the truth, and so this becomes the story within the story of curses and monsters, of spirits and superstition. It begins with the realisation that something is wrong in their home town, and there are suspicions of foul play in the mists of Yorkshire. When animals start turning up dead, and there are signs that cults are in the vicinity (though few understand what cults really are), suspicion falls upon the Brontes and, in particular, Branwell, although he maintains his innocence throughout. The sisters have to investigate what is going on and find the truth of the matter to prove that Branwell isn’t the culprit.

At this point, it’s sounding a little Famous Five, and to some extent, it is, but this doesn’t flow down the narrow tropes of the evil-looking people are evil or that the secret passageway carries all the secrets, and that’s as well because the nature of the things occurring is far more serious and making light of the events would ruin the ambience of the book.

That said, I did have trouble empathising with the characters, and perhaps that’s because I see the way in which Yorkshire people are portrayed and our pragmatic nature without the deep care that infuses most of our communities. While I don’t have a true frame of reference for the times, everyone was portrayed as very much matter of fact, whether or not that fact might cause hurt to someone, and I know that’s how Yorkshire is perceived from beyond, but still.

The story itself is well layered and put together; the tension is built from a base of supposition that leads into facts, that leads into truth near incontrovertible, but then the veil is drawn back, very reminiscent of Wuthering Heights itself, and the truth behind it is revealed. 

There is much more of a fantasy element to this by the end; the supernatural isn’t hinted at; it’s laid flat on the page staring back at you, and while everything draws together in a close, with the endings neatly tied up, you are left wondering if there was something more to be had with this and whether or not Powers was just looking to make an addendum to the existing Bronte books. It’s easy to see from the description of Branwell and many people’s comparison between him and Heathcliff that a man can be made a monster even when the man does not walk on all fours and that the real villain is human nature.

Either way, it’s a good read, captures the bleak way of life in those times and the troubles that everyone faced, even when cults and beasts weren’t abroad, and presents an interesting tale without besmirching any of the real people named within it, an achievement by itself given the story. Got to be honest, it wasn’t to my taste, but for anyone who’s read and enjoyed the Bronte books, it would be an enjoyable read with several nods to the source material.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

eight + seventeen =