The Believers by Zoe Heller

Notes on a scandal
Notes on a scandal
Zoe Heller is the author of two previous novels, Everything you need to know, and the Booker nominated Notes on a scandal (also made into a movie starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett). Like these two novels The Believers is full of dreadful characters who make reading a real pleasure!

The awful Audrey is married to Joe Lativinoff, a radical New York lawyer who suffers a massive stroke leaving him in a coma.  Audrey is by far the star of the book, and is one of those people who likes to “tell it as it is”…

She had never felt guilty about her lack of maternal zeal.  Hers was the sane response to motherhood, she thought.  The shiny eyed parenting maniacs she encountered when she dropped her daughters off at school…..they  were the crazy ones.

Her daughter Karla suffers stoically from her mother’s jibes about her weight, while other daughter Rosa risks her mother’s wrath when she announces that she is going to follow a path to become an Orthodox Jew.

Audrey laughed…”My beliefs are based on observable fact and scientific deduction.  Rosa thinks there’s an old man in the sky who has a F………. heart attack every time a time a Jew eats a prawn!”

Lenny, the adopted son is the only one of her children for who Audrey feels any true affection.  His addiction to heroin is not of huge concern to Audrey, and in fact it keeps him close by and in need of her constant support.  Her son’s sponsor, who, has the temerity to suggest that “family is often a big part of an addict’s problem” gets a frosty, “excuse me” in response.

At times there was a sense of disbelief that a family such as this could really exist, but the writing is so good that I felt myself increaslingly drawn into the ghastly drama of it all.  Would Audrey become a nicer character and realise her faults, was it possible that Lenny had kicked his addiction, could the impossibly good Karla have an affair with the local newsagent, and would Rosa don a wig and a headscarf and head off to Israel?

To find all this out you will have to read the book – and perhaps there will be a film, I could think of some wonderful actresses of a “certain age” who would make a wonderful Audrey.

Welcome to the eighteenth century

If you like costume drama, “The Duchess”, with Keira Knightley as Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, bids fair to be suitably sumptuous. (At least if the plot gets dull, you can admire the costumes and the art direction). I’m hoping that “The Duchess” may kick off a publishing frenzy for eighteenth-century biography, diaries and letters.

Amanda Foreman’s bookGeorgiana: Duchess of Devonshire gives a full account of her life, in particular her relationship with her interfering, dominating mother, her problems with gambling, and her involvement in the Golden Age of Whig politics.

Elizabeth and  Georgiana
Elizabeth and Georgiana

Caroline Chapman’s Elizabeth and Georgiana: the Duke of Devonshire and his two Duchesses explores the Devonshire menage-a-trois in more detail. An aristocratic affair : the life of Georgiana’s sister, Harriet Spencer, Countess of Bessborough by Janet Gleeson looks at the life of Georgiana’s only-slightly-less scurrillous sister Harriet, her affairs and her children. Harriet was the mother of Lady Caroline Lamb, and quarrelled with Byron over his pursuit of her daughter.  Some observers of the time believed that Byron was really in love with Harriet herself, and used Caroline to get closer to her mother.

If you get hooked on eighteenth-century biography, also try Aristocrats by Stella Tillyard,  Jane Dunn’s Read my heart and Flora Fraser’s Princesses: the six daughters of George III

Unfortunately, the books don’t have the fabulous dresses on display that the movies have. You’ll just have to imagine them.