The Brethren by Robert Merle
I love the idea of getting stuck into reading an historical saga, I really do. I know I can do sagas spread over many novels – just not historical ones it seems. In particular, I started reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles with good intentions here but never progressed onto the second volume properly (I will one day though – I promise – for I loved Lymond as a character). Actually, I’ve can’t remember another historical series that I’ve followed through – ever.
Standalone historical novels are a different matter and I’ve read and enjoyed many over the years although I admit that books set in pre-Victorian milieux are not a genre of fiction that I read regularly. Also, I think I’m fed up of the Tudors which is why Wolf Hall etc are still sitting on my shelves.
I did think I’d have another try with The Brethren – the first volume in Robert Merle’s Fortunes of France saga – bestsellers on the continent, and now translated by T.Jefferson Kline for Pushkin Press. The Brethren was published in 1977; Merle’s thirteen volume saga took him 26 years to complete, the last volume appearing just before his death in 2004.
Périgord in the middle of the sixteenth century is our setting (Mary Tudor is on the English throne). This part of France has the feel of border country – the reach of the King is limited in this wild region. Two veteran soldiers, who adopt each other as true brothers, arrive to make their home in a run-down castle, for which they outbid the neighbouring landowner who had hoped to win it for a song.
The Brethren as they are known, set about working their lands and renovating the castle giving employment to many. They are seen as fair, but tinged by the new faith of the Huguenots, which is not relieved when the younger of the two Jeans marries the beautiful Catholic daughter of a local baron – and there will always be tension between Jean and Isabelle over it.
Civil war is looming between the two religions … and that is where I left the novel at about page 80.
I didn’t warm to the style of writing and don’t know whether that is due to Merle or the translator. I just found it all very dry indeed and had a sinking feeling that it would be all too much about the soldiering, and not enough about the brothers and their families. The introduction was very slow and unlike Lymond, I didn’t get a feel for either of the Jeans at all – they were just too aloof and, dare I say it, too good. If I’m to invest in a reading a saga, I need interesting exciting characters. I’m sure they will have their day later but I have too many other books to read to give them more time. DNF
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The Brethren (Fortunes of France)by Robert Merle, trans T.Jefferson Kline. Pub Sept 2014 by Pushkin Press, Trade paperback, 416 pages.
0 thoughts on “A new historical saga – not for me…”
I couldn’t get into this book either. I think I abandoned it in almost the same place and for identical reasons. Such a shame as it sounds so interesting.
The historical potential was huge – but I was so bored by the characters and dry style.
There’s definitely no point continuing if it’s boring you that much – and it does sound very dry. I can’t deal with dry…… and as I’ve said before, life is too short to waste on books you don’t enjoy.
It shocks me to say it, but at the age of 54, I’ve finally discovered how to let books go – a little! 🙂
Snap – it’s taken me to exactly that age too! 🙂
Now is definitely not the time for me to be taking on a thirteen volume series! But, as this is the second less than rave review I’ve seen for this book, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. It’s a pity, because the period really appeals to me.
I know zilch about the Huguenots, so that’s why I was interested – and I’ve holidayed in the area, so know some of the towns mentioned like Sarlat – but it wasn’t enough to keep me reading.
That’s a shame, but I agree you know inside whether you’ll get on with a book or not. I have this on my kindle so will give it a go later. Btw, I have been wondering whether The Game of Kings is the best one to start with if you are planning to reading Dunnett.
It’s where I started – Lymond is a great character (a bit Lord Flasheart) and the women are strong too. I couldn’t get into the second volume though straight after the first – must find it and try again.
Do any of us have time for series this long these days…?
It would have to be exceptional to warrant the devotion.
Good to hear about the DNFs too. I don’t often tackle historical novels but one I definitely want to re-tackle is Wolf Hall.
I should get over my mental block about it and give it a go, shouldn’t I…
I think so. Give it 25 pages at least.
I’m sorry to hear you’ve (temporarily) given up on Lymond. Count me in if you decided to revive the read-along. I’m one for historical sagas, currently I’m following 6 of them!