Monday, 12 June 2017

The Night Brother by Rosie Garland

review by Maryom

As young children, siblings Edie and Gnome are inseparable, sneaking out of their bedroom at night to explore their home city of Manchester, but as they grow older their ways part. Edie is only seen during the day, when she tries her hardest to help her mother and grandmother around the public house they run, aiming to please but generally not succeeding. At night, Gnome comes out to play, or at least hang out in the streets with gangs of youths, often up to trouble. Although both mother and grandmother are well aware of what is happening, Edie herself is puzzled why she wakes each morning feeling like she's hardly slept, with tousled hair and dirt under her fingernails.

The Night Brother is an intriguing re-working of the Jekyll and Hyde story set against the backdrop of late 19th/early 20th century Manchester.
I loved the many historical elements of the book, and the atmospheric capturing of the feel of the city - the excitement of a childhood trip to see fireworks, the bustle of the streets. the defiance of the Suffragettes - but the concept at the heart of the story left me unconvinced.
I don't want to go into details as that would lead to a huge plot spoiler, but the lack of real explanation of this family 'curse' left me a bit frustrated. I'm sure I've read something with a similar gender-challenging idea in a sci-fi novel, possibly by Ursula le Guin, and whereas it's easy to explain it away in 'aliens', it's harder when dealing with people who are outwardly as normal as the next person. Maybe I'm looking at it all too literally, and expecting scientific explanations where there aren't any, maybe the story is more allegory that real, but it stopped me rating the book higher.

I'm not sure how I'd define this - historical fantasy maybe?

Maryom's review - 3.5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)

Genre - adult, historical, fantasy, 

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