Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 20, 2008

The Believers, by Zoe Heller

I didn’t enjoy this at all, and was really disappointed in it.  I loved Notes on a Scandal (shortlisted for the 2003 Booker Prize),  and the movie with Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy was brilliant.   

But The Believers is just too nasty for me.  The Litvinoffs are an awful American family, with the most unpleasant mother in fictional history.  The story explores the same territory as Charlotte Wood’s  The Children : the father is gravely ill and about to die and the family has to confront long held beliefs that no longer sustain them.  But where Charlotte Wood tackles her subject with wit and wisdom, Heller harangues the reader with caustic sarcasm about the hypocrisy of her characters’ Leftie attitudes and pseudo-liberal views.  It’s presumably supposed to be funny, but I found it tedious.

The mother, Audrey, is just ghastly.  She has a foul mouth, and foul attitudes: she’s suspicious, critical, sarcastic, and spiteful, and she always has to have the last word.   No reader could be surprised when she gets her comeuppance.   She’s naive not only about her husband but also about her layabout foster son, and she’s downright offensive about her daughter Rosa’s interest in Judaism.  Her other daughter Karla is a lumpen fool, and her attempts to enliven her dreary life are pathetic.

For a more generous review than mine, see DoveGreyReader Scribbles.

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