Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Late family

Not in my case, it wasn't. I'm talking about Zeruya Shalev's latest book 'Late Family'. Not yet translated into English (I read it in German), but her books 'Husband and Wife' and 'Love life' are - go and buy them! She's a brilliant, brilliant author. 'Love life' has been turned into a film.

'Late family' is a nearly 600-page, tightly printed (and excellent value for money) book set in the head of a young woman who decides one day to separate from her husband (actually to put him out). They have a son, Gil'ad, who is six and starting school. From this point on the book goes through all the agonies, the fears, the worries, the excitements of her decisions, her doubts, her desires, her new ways of thinking, the concerns of her friends interpreted by herself correctly or otherwise, the domination by her father, her loneliness, her slow change of focus from her son to herself, the changes in the family relationships, her attraction to a psychiatrist with (no doubt gorgeous) dark eyes, the attempts to settle down together with what is left of his family. These mental processes - probably most women have been through some of these at some stage in their lives - are observed minutely and documented in exacting detail. As the reader you feel you are on an emotional rollercoaster, and you will her on to make the right decision. The people the narrator is involved with are themselves very complex and thus very real people - you feel you could just go over to some of them for a chat.

Like all Shalev's books this has not a single quotation mark, but is full of dialogue, internal and external, and you have to read it really carefully not to miss anything, or to be sure who said what. Scanning a paragraph does not do - you'll miss key information. The dialogue, all for that it looks from the distance like a descriptive paragraph, extremely well reflects the ways of speaking of the different characters, from six-year-olds to 75-year-olds, from slow to fast talkers.

In passing you also pick up some of the realities of current life in Israel; when parents pick up their children from the locked school playground and wonder if one elderly guard is enough; when people won't sit near the guard in the cafe, and when they will not take their children into public spaces like a shopping centre.

It's brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! I waited for ages for the paperback version to come out, and it's been absolutely worth getting it. Sadly, Ms Shalev seems to be a slower writer than we are readers....