08 April 2009

The Believers by Zoe Heller

Flap Copy from ARC: "When New York radical lawyer Joel Litvinoff is felled by a stroke, his wife, Audrey, uncovers a secret that forces her to re-examine her ideas about him and their forty-year marriage. Joel's adult children will soon have to come to terms with this unsettling discovery themselves, but for the meantime, they are grappling with their own dilemmas ... "

Well-written though this book may have been, I found the characters and also the story to be annoying at best, extremely frustrating at worst. I give Heller credit for once again creating a rich, layered protagonist -- I loved her 'Notes on a Scandal' and was hoping that 'The Believers' would not disappoint. But it did - I just found the characters to be so unlikeable, their thoughts and actions so distasteful, that it was hard to enjoy the book. I was thoroughly engaged, I don't deny that Heller has written an intelligent, witty and brutally honest novel about contemporary society - I just didn't like it.

Audrey is a shrew - mean-spirited, self-righteous and completely void of any moral compass. When her husband of forty years falls into a coma and the stories and secrets of his life come to light, she grows increasingly nasty. Her children are another story. At first I felt sorry for them, raised by two leftist ideologues who probably never should have had children. But as their stories were illuminated I began to feel antagonistic towards them - Rosa, the priggish 'new Jew' whose exploration of her inherited faith is full of bitterness; Karla, the timid parental defender with no self-image and a fear of happiness; and Lenny, the adopted drug addict whose master manipulation of family and situation was the most accurate metaphor for the family's problems. I just didn't like them.

I'm not someone who needs to identify with a character in order to enjoy a book - I read for the sake of the writing more than for the story or its' characters. And I do believe that Heller has written a masterful novel about the nature of family, and more keenly the very nature of individual life. But at the end of the day I found 'The Believers' hard to enjoy, I wanted it to be over so I wouldn't have to know these people anymore, so I wouldn't have to think about them. So I suppose Heller succeeded in her ultimate task of capturing humanity at its worst ... but really, that's more than a little off-putting.


  1. Like you I couldn't stand Audrey. She is one woman who never should have had children. She certainly did not know how to mother them. The end of this book wrapped up way too neatly to be believable.

  2. Came over from Colleen's to see what you had to say about the book too. I owe a review on this one and was hoping it was better than this. Oh well, a negative review never stopped me from reading something. :)