Monday, January 25, 2010

The Believers by Zoë Heller - 352 pgs -- Giveaway!

Book CoverAs radical political activist and lawyer Joel Litvinoff lies in a coma after a major stroke, his unusual family threatens to begin it's own breakdown. Joel's wife Audrey, always razor-tongued and opinionated, must not only deal with Joel's absence from her life but also come to terms with the nasty secret that her husband has been hiding from her for years. Meanwhile, Joel and Audrey's adopted son Lenny, a wastrel and drug addict, is working his usual game of manipulation and subterfuge on the rest of the family, seemingly unconcerned that his father lies incapacitated and dying. Daughter Rosa, once a socialist and activist like her parents, has decided to begin studies as an Orthodox Jew, much to the chagrin and disappointment of her antitheist mother who takes her conversion as a personal affront. Rounding out the bunch is daughter Karla, an obese and unhappy woman who is struggling not only to find fulfillment, but also to become pregnant at the behest of her uncaring and oblivious husband. As days turn to weeks with no news or improvement from Joel, situations begin to heat to a rapid boil, and each member of the family comes to their own moral precipice and must decide whether to let go and jump off, or to hang on to the things that are pulling them apart. Both comically astute and morally penetrating, The Believers is Heller at her skillful and avant-garde best.

A few years back, I had the unexpected pleasure of picking up my first book written by Zoë Heller. The book was What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, and even with my relative inexperience at writing reviews at that time, I knew this author was someone to take seriously. When the opportunity came for me to read and review this book as part of a TLC Book Tour, I jumped at the chance. The book certainly didn't disappoint, and not only did I find it really hard to tear myself away from the pages of the story, I read the book in two sittings.

First of all, I felt that in her creation of the Litvinoffs, Heller does an amazing job of capturing the idiosyncrasies of a modern family in turmoil. Each character was like the point on a star, twinkling away in disorder and confusion. Although most of the characters had a somewhat repulsive outlook on life, they were the kind of characters you love to hate and whose antics you ingest feverishly in order to see just how bizarre and recalcitrant they will become. Each character was remarkably detailed and original, and for a work of fiction, these people were crazily realistic creatures. I think Audrey fascinated me the most. She was so scathing and fierce about everyone and everything that she came in contact with. I cringed in embarrassment and discomfort whenever she opened her mouth, but Heller had a way of making her so intriguing and interesting that you couldn't help but be completely absorbed by the woman. Audrey was a true original and although I was mostly scandalized by her behavior, I was unendingly entertained by her. Although I chose to focus mainly on the qualities of Audrey, I was truly impressed by all of the characters in this book. I didn't really like most of them but I felt that there was enough character dissection and detail in their creation to be able to understand what made them tick and why they acted as they did. I also liked the fact that Heller doesn't spend a lot of time worrying over the acceptability of her characters' beliefs and morals. There are no apologies here; these characters are who they are with no holes barred and no reservations.

I thought there was a huge amount of social commentary and irony here. One of the greatest ironies in the story was the fact that although the characters (mainly Audrey) constantly spouted socialist rhetoric and worked from that mindset, in their personal worlds people were far from equal and the common man in society was somewhat peevishly denigrated. It seemed as though they aspired to much loftier ideals than they could ever attain. This came up repeatedly throughout the story in their complaints about female doctors, their opinions on the hopeless futures of children of minorities and their unhappiness with their subjugated Latin housekeepers. They would walk through the story believing that they were on the side of the working man, the minority and society, but in reality their idealism was stripped away by their everyday experiences and actions. This book was simply a satirical masterpiece and I marveled at the way Heller created such meaningful social commentary in a tale full of miscreants.

I also thought that the research Heller did for this book was interesting. In the subplot involving Rosa, the reader is given a deep and extensive look into the tenants and rituals of Orthodox Judaism. I am very green to this subject but I felt that Heller did a wonderful job of explaining and highlighting these concepts for me. The book also also had some hysterically funny moments. The humor in this book was much like the characters: scathing and searing. I found myself snorting with amusement at these people and their absurdities and idealism. I think Heller has an incredible gift in the executions of her characters, and although I have never really found any of her characters to be likable, I do find them all engrossingly cruel and wickedly amusing.

If you are the type of reader who doesn't necessarily have to like the characters in a book in order to be fascinated with them, then this is definitely a book you need to read. Those who enjoy works of great satire and irony will find much to amuse themselves here as well. After completing this book, I must conclude that Heller is a writer at the top of her form. I am a huge fan of her work and can't wait to see what she offers her readers next. A highly original and entertaining read, highly recommended.

Harper Collins has generously offered one paperback copy of this wonderful book to my readers. If you would like a chance to win, please leave a comment at the end of this post with a valid e-mail address where I can contact you if you win. You must leave a valid e-mail address to be entered in this giveaway. A winner will be drawn at random on February 10th. Good luck to all entrants!

TLC Book Tours
A hearty thanks to TLC Book Tours for providing this book for me to read and review. I encourage you to visit these other sites to continue following the tour:

Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Steph and Tony Investigate!
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Life in the Thumb
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Write for a Reader
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
A Reader’s Respite
Thursday, February 11, 2010
The Brain Lair
Monday, February 15, 2010
Book Club Classics!
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Sasha and the Silverfish
Thursday, February 18, 2010
Nonsuch Book

About the author: Zoë Heller is the author of Everything You Know and What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize and made into an acclaimed film starring Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench. Heller lives in New York.


Jenny said...

I'd love to be entered! I enjoyed Notes on a Scandal a few years ago and would love to try another of Heller's books! bastet57 (at) gmail (dot) com.

Aarti said...

No need to enter me, Heather :-)

On a completely random note, I love that you use the word "wastrel." That word is something of a joke in my family and it always makes me smile to see people use it in every day language.

This book sounds very different from my usual fare and it's one I'd never pick up except that you gave it such a positive review. So now I'll keep the author on my radar (it seems like so many people have the last name Heller, doesn't it?) and look out for her previous book, definitely!

A Bookshelf Monstrosity said...

Thanks for the great review. I'd love to be counted for the giveaway.


Suko said...

Please enter me in this giveaway. It sounds like a compelling read.


joelcobbs said...

Awesome! I worked in a bookstore and always recommend Notes on a Scandal to those curious about it.

jncobbs (at) gmail (dot) com

Lesleyclark said...

Fantastic! It sounds like a book I need to read! Thanks for posting.

Jeff Martin said...

I would love a copy. Couldn't afford the hardcover and have been waiting. JCharlesMartin(at)gmail(dot)com

Mariella said...

This novel sounds very interesting!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Please sign me up! I did not read Notes on a Scandal, but I saw the movie. Wow, it just blew me right out of the water. And no, I don't have to like my characters. Some of the most fun I've had reading is when there is just a bizarre character or an evil character that entertains until the last page. Thanks Heather! rnawrot at cfl dot rr dot com

Steph said...

I so enjoyed reading your thoughts on this one! I think we had very similar reactions, so don't be surprised if tomorrow my review covers much of the same turf. I think Heller shows real skill being able to make such fiercely dislikable people characters that readers will want to read about. Like you, I found this book hard to put down, and tore through it pretty quickly! A nice change of pace from Dickens! ;)

mindy said...

this book sounds so inviting thanks for the giveaway minsthins at optonline dot net

Mary said...

I've read her before and would love to read this.


Shannon said...

I'm always looking for new authors. Sounds like some intense characters. I'd love to read it!

Jessica said...

I would love to win the book! Thanks for the giveaway!
ms.johnsonmahs at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I have always wanted to read Zoe Heller, and this sounds like a fantastic book to start with.

Please enter me into the competition as well :)

My email id is nishikk(at)gmail(dot)com

Maz said...

always can use a good book

rmaslow a@t yahoo d.ot com

jlshall said...

I really enjoyed your review, and it sounds like a great book. I'd love a chance to win a copy - please enter me in the giveaway.


Michelle said...

I'd love to win this one. It sounds very interesting.


Deb said...

Would love a copy---thanks for hosting.

deborah150 at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

This book is already on my to-read list, winning a copy would be great! :)

Anonymous said...

I'd love to win this book-please enter me! Thank you for the review.
june_spirit2628 at hotmail dot com

Anonymous said...

Please count me in. Sounds like a fascinating book!
Beth E
bethnaf at hotmail dot com

Sarah Coulsey said...

I would love to read this book. Thank you for the chance


cc1181 said...

I would love this book! Thanks

Suko said...

(P.S. This is a wonderful review. You give enough detail about the book but not too much.

Please stop by my blog as I have an award for you.)

Nickolay said...

This sounds like a great book. Thanks for the chance


Heidi said...

I would be very interested in reading this book... it sounds like the exact type of storyline I've been searching for. Please consider me for your giveaway. Thanks!

writeme at heidimail dot com

Nelsby said...

This book sounds like a real page-turner...I would be so thrilled to win! I, too, really enjoyed Zoe Heller's book, What Was She Thinking?: Notes on a Scandal.
sierranelsby (at) gmail (dot) com

Megan: said...

Great giveaway!

trish said...

You blew me away with this review! I can't get this image out of my head, "Each character was like the point on a star, twinkling away in disorder and confusion." Thanks for such a thorough and thoughtful review, Heather! I must admit you've convinced me to read it. :)

AG said...

I loved Notes on a Scandal! Please enter me. awg828 (at) yahoo (dot) com.

Bani said...

Excellent review, very in-depth. Has me interested in the book.

wakeupangel at gmail dot com

avalonne83 said...

Please count me in. Thanks.

avalonne83 [at] yahoo [dot] it

Katie said...

What a great review, I'd love to read this one. Thank you for the chance to win!


Chip said...

This looks like a really interesting book. I would love to read it.


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

What a great review Heather. This is one of those book that I always meant to read but never did. I'd love to win a copy:

bibliophilebythesea AT gmail DOT com

thanks so much

Nicole C. said...

I would love to read this! I loved her other book!


Nelsby said...

This book sounds like a real page-turner...I would be so thrilled to win!
sierranelsby (at) gmail (dot) com

DEBIJOT said...

I would love to read this. Sounds intriguing.

debijackson said...

sounds terrific--please include me

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