Thursday, October 5, 2017

Book Review: 'Brothers at Arms' by Jemima Brigges

Jemima Brigges is an exiled Salopian (a native of Shropshire), who left the county to begin a career in nursing and midwifery. She also is an author focusing on the Georgian era and the social mores of that period. Her debut novel -BROTHERS AT ARMS - surveys of a fascinating family history that encompasses the class system on both sides of the social divide. She distills her concepts in her brief author’s not at the opening of this book, ‘Whilst the historical figures are set in the context of fiction, the reputation of Thomas William Coke, as one of the significant personalities of the Agricultural Revolution is fact. Everyone knows of the Napoleonic Wars, but few remember the farmers who kept the people of England fed in those difficult times. I have no idea whether such an innovative thinker as ‘Mr Coke of Norfolk’ had students of agriculture on his Norfolk estate, but the notion fitted the section of my story to which it relates so well, that I hope historians will forgive my literary fantasy.’ Having read her second novel first – COUNTING THE COST – it is fascinating to see how well she established her reputation with her debut.

Jemima opens windows on a period all but forgotten, especially now in this time of feminist importance. The number of women in charge of entire countries appears to be growing each year and the feminists have all but assured that these changes are permanent and for the better! Where Jemima excels (in addition to her eloquent prose, able to capture the Georgian period not only in atmosphere but also in conversational passages) is her ability to create characters with whom we can comfortably relate, thus making her cause for shedding light on the disparities of equal rights shine more brightly.

The provided synopsis of this complex novel distills the main points of the story well: ‘The story of a friendship, which began in Shropshire during the Pre-Regency era (1794 – 1802). Tom Norbery’s decision, to bring two orphaned children to live at Linmore Hall, changes the life of his son, Joshua, for the better. It does not make his older brother less aggressive, or his mother kinder, but for the first time in his life Joshua has a friend. Someone to talk with, share his adventures and best of all his ambition to be a soldier. All he has to do is accept Charlie Cobarne’s little sister, which at the time does not seem too much to ask. But Sophie, unlike other girls in the Linmore household, disdains female refinements in favour of masculine hunting pursuits at which she excels. She challenges her brother and Joshua to prove her mettle, until Charlie agrees that she can follow the drum when they join the army. In so doing, she binds their friendship together, but her continuing presence causes the once strong bond between the young men to become a recipe for misunderstandings. Changing family circumstances force Sophie to conceive a plan of which she is sure Charlie will approve – knowing that Joshua always agrees with her brother. Single minded in her determination to keep them together, Sophie little considers the far-reaching consequences for them, and Linmore, if her plans should go awry. Or who, if she pushes them to the limit, has most to lose? The first part of an interlinking series involving the landed gentry and the working classes at a time when the Napoleonic Wars rumble on in the background, and life, with its family feuds and intrigues, continues in a rural England coping with the changes of the Agricultural Revolution.’

Not only does Jemima Brigges establish herself as a sophisticated writer with this fine novel, but she also resurrects our attention to a time of sexual inequality – a lesson we must never forget. Grady Harp, February 17

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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