The Brothers’ Lot
(Akashic Books, 2011)
The men who form the Brothers of Godly Coercion School for Young Boys of Meager Means are grumpy, mean, funny, and delusionary—as though they walked out of a Monty Python skit. Such are the characters in Kevin Holohan’s debut novel, The Brothers’ Lot.
The book portrays an order of brothers trying to save their school and the terrified students they teach in Ireland. We see a lot of the madness of the brothers through the eyes of the teenage Finbar Sullivan. He and his family move from Cork, “the Real True Capital of the Country all the way to Dirty Dublin,” and Finbar is immediately identified as the new kid to be picked on.
Fear is the ruling force among the brothers. As the construction of their school falls apart, the weakness in the order and its teachings is revealed. The brothers who were forced to join as adolescents are dominated by the older, more sophisticated fathers. The students go through the motions of their studies but never learn anything, fearful of the physical or verbal abuse they’ll receive. As the school falls apart, the brothers perceive a miracle in the destruction of the building. What follows is a series of wild events in a quest to authenticate the miracle.
Beneath the jokes and eccentric characters, The Brothers’ Lot questions the treatment of students in such schools. What is discipline, who should dispense it, how far can one go and who protects the weak from the strong? Holohan shades the characters with enough complexities and back-stories so that each is given some measure of compassion. The book is funny, fast-paced with one crisis after another, but always pulls at the heartstrings.