John Hertz Review: My Brother’s Keeper

  • My Brother’s Keeper by Tim Powers (2023)

Review By John Hertz: (Reprinted from Vanamonde 1590)

It’s a Tim Powers story. Strange things are happening early on.

It’s a Tim Powers story. “Nothing is revealed” does not apply.

On the Andrew Davis front cover of the Head of Zeus edition a bookshop got for me William Gibson says, “Tim Powers is a brilliant writer”. The back cover has “A masterly, compelling … tale … among the greatest fantasy writers – Dean Koontz”. Both true.

It’s 1830. Three children — nowadays we’d probably call them pre-teens — are at Ponden Kirk, a crag of sandstone rock on Haworth Moor, West Yorkshire, England. It really does look like two stacks of gargantuan petrified books. Go and see it if you dare. The first of the three to speak, and a page later the first to be named, is a boy. Since the book begins, and this Prologue opens, with poems by Emily Bronte (1818-1848), you guess this Branwell is her brother (1817-1848). Right. He says “This is exactly how it was in my dream”. Since the fifth line of the poem beginning the book is “A mute remembrance of crime,” you guess he is unreliable. Right again.

Classically speaking, tragedy does not come by accident. Someone does something wrong, seemingly trivial then, which turns out to have crashing consequences.

Branwell involves Emily and her sister Anne (1820-1849), and their father Patrick (1777-1861). The portrait of Patrick Bronte in the National Portrait Gallery of London shows he really did wear his neckcloth like that (ch. 2). Branwell really did leave a portrait (also in the NPG) of Charlotte (1816-1855), Emily, and Anne around a ruddy pillar he painted over a portrait of himself (ch. 8). Emily’s concern for him — as we’d call it nowadays — is one reason for the title.

Emily tries to help a wounded man on the moor. When she comes back he is gone. We see him again, though he is not the protagonist any more than Branwell. Christianity is triune; we keep meeting people — gods — knives — that are biune. Minerva is here. So are promises, courage, and the wages of sin.

So is Ogham, the ancient Celtic tree-alphabet. So is another Keeper. So is invitation.

Nabokov (1899-1977) said “To call a story a true story is an insult to both art and truth.” Bearing that in mind, Powers explains things. Why did Emily, Anne, Branwell, die young?

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One thought on “John Hertz Review: My Brother’s Keeper

  1. The book sounds intriguing. Powers loves historical fantasy, winding his inventions through the fabric of real people’s lives. I read his “Declare” recently, which does this with British espionage during and after World War II, including double agent Kim Philby and other real MI6 officers. I loved the explanation of one-time pads and other tradecraft.

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