The Brethren by Robert Merle
With the current interest in historical novels set in the 16th century following the life and times of Tudor England, it is easier to imagine the French setting for The Brethren than previously.
The book is set in the latter part of the 16th century as the tale of two soldiers returning to their homeland of Perigord after taking part in many battles, to retire. However the country is descending into chaos, with religious strife, famine, plague and pestilence, bands of robbers, and of course the English. The two Jeans, the eponymous Brethren, are actually only brothers in arms who retire to a castle to found a community
This is the first book in the epic historical drama, Fortunes of France, which has sold 5 million copies worldwide and has now been translated in English for the first time.
This is old-fashioned story-telling. It has swagger and, vibrancy with big characters and a lot of historical depth. It is a gripping story with humour and strength and real attention to historical detail… Merle initially wrote it as a one-off novel, but readers clamoured for more and the final volume was published a year before his death in 2004, aged 95.
This has got to be a good read if you are an aficionado of this genre and enjoy the recent epic tales of Tudor England. This will fit nicely into the historical tapestry of 16th Century Europe.
Personally I found the opening hard to follow as inevitably there were many historical references to set the scene, but once I got used to the unusual prose style, presumably to give authenticity, I allowed the story to dictate the pace rather than the sequence of words.
It may also be less fluid because this is a translation from the original French but it is still worth persevering and there are the next 12 volume to anticipate.
The Brethren is published in paperback on 11th September by Pushkin Press and is also available as an EBook.
by Charlotte Courthold