Tuesday, October 17, 2017

As it happened...

In the month of August, I made a couple of  day trips to Kuala Lumpur. Each time I made my little detour to the BookXcess Bookshop at Starling Mall before heading to the airport. During one such trip,  I was cutting the time rather fine and ended up having to take an Uber car to the airport as  I did not want to be caught in downtown traffic and risk missing my return flight home. I had to prevent myself from thinking that if I had been more prudent and managed to catch the airport bus from the public transport hub, the cost of an Uber car ride would be equivalent to the price of one book or several that I could purchase, depending on which bookstore I go to. The Uber car driver was rather chatty. By the end of my one hour plus ride, I knew that he was  a father of four boys and he and his wife would long for a girl.  He also told me that he would like to move his family to Australia as he had dreams of having a farm and living there. Years ago, he had visited his aunt in Brisbane while she was there and he really liked it then. I hope he would make his dream a reality .
As it happened, when I arrived at the airport well before time and joined a throng of passengers who were seated at the boarding gate, I was told that  the flight would be delayed and we would not take off for at least another forty-five minutes. I had all these books that I had bought and I was too exhausted and famished to read any of them. What a bummer.

Some months ago, I lent a friend my daughter’s copy of  The Girl on the Train  click  and she returned the book just before she left for France. She had not quite finished reading the novel so l decided to get her a copy of the book by Paula Hawkins from the BookXcess webstore click. She told me, " I think I know whodunnit"  and she could not be more wrong. I could not tell her the ending as that would be a spoiler.  When I placed the order, I bought along with it  The Believers by Zoe Heller. The Believers is a novel about a dysfunctional family living in Greenwich Village in New York.

In 1962, eighteen year old Audrey Howard meets Joel Litvinoff, a prominent civil rights leftist lawyer from America at a party. He is attracted to her, asks her out  and then proposes to her. Despite an age gap of some thirteen to fourteen years between them, she takes him up on his offer as she feels that is her chance to break away from her mundane life as a typist in suburban London. 

Forty years on,  Audrey has to re-examines everything she thought she knew about her marriage to Joel when he suffers a stroke and ends up in comatose. Audrey and Joel have two daughters, Karla and Rosa. They also have an adopted son, Lenny who is into drugs. While Joel lies in the hospital, Audrey and children have to battle their own demons and with each other. Ultimately they each have to decide on what they truly believe in. Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary, decides to get connected with her Jewish roots. As she grapples with Orthodox Judaism, her unhappily married sister, Karla  is falling for an unlikely suitor at the hospital where she works.

Audrey and Joel had always prided themselves in accepting mortality as facts of life. When the doctor advises Audrey that Joel's vegetative condition will not improve, she  refuses to agree to  terminating the life sustaining equipment.Once upon a time, Audrey's brash manner had been a mere posture but 'somewhere along the way, when she hadn't been paying attention, her temper had ceased to be a beguiling party act that could be switched on and off at will.'

Here are snippets from the novel. 

At the edges of her fury with the doctor, there was an embarrassed awkwardness of her own hypocrisy. She and Joel had never been sentimentalists about death. Over the years, their discussions about their own mortality had always been showily phlegmatic. ‘ When the day comes that I can’t take a piss on my own,” Joel had told her a few years back when he started having trouble with prostate, I want you to have me chopped up for horsemen,okay? How often had they shaken their heads ruefully at the dotty sanctity-of-life types who insisted on keeping their loved ones alive when they were no more sensate than parsnips?How often had they congratulated themselves on the fact that, as atheists, they were uniquely well-equipped to face the end of life with dignity? ‘We’ve got nothing to be scared about,’Joel always said. ‘We know there’s nothing else.’

      Yet now that the discussion had departed the comfortable realm of dinner- table posturing - now that  she was confronting the possibility of actually presiding over her husband’s death - she understood how cowardly their former bravado had been. All those jokes about not wasting public health resources and suffocating one another with plastic bags —— what had they really been but avoidance? Refused to confront the horror of extinction?’

On arriving home, Rosa went straight to her bedroom, knelt down before her dresser and began rummaging through the bottom drawer. At length, she unearthed an ancient pack of Marlboro Lights. She laid the cigarettes on the bed and considered them. The mere act of smoking, evil as it was, was not yet sufficiently evil for her purpose. She stood up and went down the hall to run a bath. Here was decadence : she would smoke in the tub.’

In The Believers, the dialogues created by Zoe Heller are animated and witty and the caricatures of the characters are wry, some not so likeable but they feel real. 

Zoe Heller is a brilliant novelist as she describes the different characters with acute and unsentimental observations and captures candidly the essence of human follies, hypocrisies, contradictions and insecurities. 

After having read The Believers by Zoe Heller, I cannot wait to read Everything You Know that I recently bought  from Kinokuniya webstore. It is a debut novel  by the same author.

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