Three Brothers follows the fortunes of Harry, Daniel, and Sam Hanway, a trio of brothers born on a postwar council estate in Camden Town. Marked from the start by curious coincidence, each boy is forced to make his own way in the world - a world of dodgy deals and big business, of criminal gangs and crooked landlords, of newspaper magnates, backbiters, and petty thieves. From bustling, cut-throat Fleet Street to hallowed London publishing houses, from the wealth and corruption of Chelsea to the smoky shadows of Limehouse and Hackney, this is an exploration of the city, peering down its streets, riding on its underground, and drinking in its pubs and clubs.
Three Brothers portrays a world in which ambition and success lead only to misery. Of the three brothers, the oldest, Harry, makes his way in journalism through connections and by burying stories of corruption that would cause his boss financial problems. Daniel, the middle brother, becomes a professor and critic who is increasingly panicky about hiding his homosexuality. The youngest brother, Sam, has neither goals nor friends, but the author seems to regard his meekness as the greatest virtue. The brothers lose touch with each other early in the book, after their mother mysteriously abandons them. Their lives become three parallel but separate morality tales. The author is especially harsh on foreigners, like the South Indian Asher Roopta, a corrupt landlord. The book aims at a Dickensian flavor, with scenes at every level of society and with oddly named characters and coincidences. But even Dickens' most odious characters (Uriah Heep) were understandable, while Ackroyd's villains are cardboard targets. I confess that I enjoyed the book's first few chapters, until the author became increasingly bitter and his characters increasingly mean. Steven Crossley's narration was very good, as always.
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