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When We Were Bad: A Novel Paperback – Nov 1 2008


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Picador UK (Nov. 1 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330456105
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330456104
  • Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 2 x 17.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #1,568,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

With humor and panache, British writer Mendelson (Love in Idleness) presents London's Rubin clan, presided over by matriarch Claudia, a brilliant, charismatic London rabbi blessed with zaftig curves and a will of steel. Claudia seems to have molded nebbishy husband Norman and their four children into the perfect family. But as the plodding eldest, Leo, leaves the altar to run off with his mistress, the fault lines are exposed: next-eldest Frances eventually admits to her despair about her dutiful marriage and her lack of maternal feeling, and even colorless Norman turns out to have a guilty secret. Claudia, however, must preserve the myth of a perfect family because it's the basis of her about-to-be published memoir, a moral and ethical handbook for families of the new millennium. What makes Mendelson's novel especially naughty are her candid observations about the crouching, self-loathing way that many English Jews try to fit into Anglo society while simultaneously maintaining their traditions: Claudia's seder, for example, is a comic set piece of frantic preparation and grim hospitality. But while the social satire is deft, the action upon which Mendelson hangs it veers into farce. And with the introduction of imminent tragedy, the plot abruptly crashes. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

To all appearances, the fabled life of the Rubin family of London—with beautiful, brainy, and accomplished 55-year-old rabbi Claudia Rubin at the helm—is nothing but happy, until firstborn Leo abandons his bride at his wedding to run off with the wife of the officiating rabbi. But there are earlier cracks in this facade: younger children Simeon and Emily, approaching 30, still live at home, unable to make their way in the world; older sister Frances, to whom her siblings turn for help, is desperately unhappy in a virtually arranged marriage to a widower with two young daughters and is unable to love her infant son; and Claudia's husband, Norman, the appropriately less-successful spouse, can't tell his wife about the book he has written and sold. Mendelson, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for her second novel, Daughters of Jerusalem (2004), is a keen observer of family life and of English Jewry, as experienced from within and seen from without, and she deftly blends humor and pathos in this portrayal of a family in crisis. Leber, Michele --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Paperback
I loved the total disaster that is this family. I found this book so real in its depictions of dysfunction within a family and how this familial dysfunction plays out in the individual lives of the family members.

It took me a while to get fully engaged in this book as the book is written from the perspective of multiple characters and it is often unclear at the outset which character is in focus. At first I found myself regularly going back in the book to clarify who was who and what I knew about them. Ultimately I found that this exercise served to deepen my connection to the characters. Once I was half-way through the book I felt like I was connected to the Rubin family and found the characters to be easily identifiable.

I think the depth of the author's character development is exceptional. It is not often that I cannot get a character out of my mind, and I continue to think about Frances. I miss Frances and am so glad to have had the chance to walk in her world.

I just cannot say enough how very much I enjoyed this book and how grateful I am to Mendelson for sharing the Rubin family with me. I look forward to reading more of this author's work.
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By Jill Meyer HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on June 23 2012
Format: Paperback
British author Charlotte Menedelson gives us the Rubin family of Hampstead in her novel, "When We Were Bad". The family, super-star Rabbi Claudia Rubin - picture buxom beauty Nigella Lawson wearing a tallis - and her author-husband Norman, have raised together four children, all of whom are still part of the family, even at the advanced ages of early 30's and late 20's. Claudia is the firmament around which the other family members move and to whom they owe their love, livelihoods, and most of all, allegiance. "Rabbi Claudia" is the most famous, "out-there", rabbi in London and is a popular author, speaker, and...rabbi to her congregation in Belsize Park.

Claudia Rubin could be called a narcissist, I suppose; totally without a sense of humor about her family and world, she expects everyone to do and everything to be to her liking. Her four children, Frances, married to a widower and the mother of a young son; Leo, about to marry in a huge wedding, deserts his bride at the altar and runs off with the officiating rabbi's wife; Simeon, a young druggy and lay-about who adores his mother; and Emily, a late 20's woman who also can't get her life together. Norman is an habitually failed biographer, happy to let wife Claudia be the star in the family. Rabbi Claudia would like to present her family to the world as "perfect", but the reality of the situation begins to erase the perception.

Charlotte Mendelson's novel is a comedy-of-manners, though, as I write this review, I'm making the characters and the plot sound, well, grim. The plot covers a four or five month period in the Rubin family's life, beginning with Leo deserting his bride and ending a few nights after the Passover seder-from-hell.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Dysfunctional, enmeshed family headed by narcissistic matriarch May 30 2008
By Marron - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
SPOILER ALERT

This book is well written, and at times amusing, but quite exasperating in its depiction of the Rubin family. I disliked half the characters, and the least likable ones were so broadly drawn as to be unbelievable (e.g., a 27 year old woman in so many words telling her brother, who wants to live with his lover, "How could you? We all have to sacrifice our lives for mum's sake!"). As a therapist I found the level of family dysfunction and enmeshment not very funny at all. Was it supposed to be endearing, despite its quirks? Well, it wasn't!

Three stars for readability, and for giving us two characters who escaped (more or less).
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
When We Were Bad Nov. 11 2007
By Book Bag - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Have just finished reading When We Were Bad and found the story very entertaining and humorous. Great depiction of a family who appears to be "the perfect family" to outsiders, but when we see the family from the inside, is just as dysfunctional as many of us. Very clever writing.

Would recommend this book - definitely.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Not easy to characterize Dec 31 2007
By algo41 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is not easy to characterize, and that is one of its strong points. It is the story of a dominating woman, her children and her husband who have all suffered from this domination, but it is also what I call a feel good story, thanks to its outcomes; it is also a social satire and even a comedy. Francis at one point is behaving strangely, but she is only dimly aware of this, "no more than of the thick gray dust crushed beneath the wheels (of the train), the gray mice trembling against the track as the train races past into darkness". Mendelsohn is not a particularly good prose stylist, but the quoted material is from an author who sometimes expects her readers to laugh with her at her characters and their weaknesses and situations.

The dominating woman is a Rabbi, and her professional life certainly adds interest to the story, though theology plays no real role. I think Mendelsohn goes a little overboard with the 2 younger children, and I think an editor could have eliminated Simeon with good effect.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Readable, but too much improbable behaviour March 23 2014
By Ralph Blumenau - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
There are all sorts of improbabilities in this novel. The first is right at the beginning, when the thirty-four year old Leo Rubin abandons his intended bride Naomi just as she enters the synagogue to run away there and then with Helen, the wife of Naomi’s family rabbi. There is naturally turmoil in his family - his mother Claudia who is a respected rabbi, his father Norman, and his three siblings Frances, Simeon and Emily. Claudia’s children, all in awe of their formidable mother, are all inadequate in one way or another; but it falls to Frances, who is married, to come over to do the most elementary things to keep the household running: to fix a light in the hall, to deal with a busted radiator and a broken kettle (improbability no.2: who would have done this before? Leo?)

Claudia is about to publish a book about the importance of family. Leo’s escapade threatens to undermine her credibility as the Family Goddess she hopes to become. Then Emily has an affaire which, in a different way, threatens it, too. And Norman, who has always played second fiddle to his wife, has not told her that he is about to publish a book which threatens to upstage hers: it is a biography about a (quite) well-known novelist about whom he has made a sensational discovery. But he is indiscreet with a woman who does know about the book. As for Claudia, she has a sombre secret herself which she keeps from all the family.

These are just some strands in a complicated plot of relationships and secrets. Leo’s behaviour is, for much of the novel, very erratic: he has no control over his drives. Frances is a poor, unhappy creature, with very low self-esteem, especially as a wife, mother and step-mother. In her distress she stumbles into a couple of relationships which, being Frances, aggravate her distress. The two younger siblings, in their late twenties, don’t have a job and live grottily on their own floor. Emily I found totally unbelievable. Simeon is a drug-taking oaf: another improbability is that his there is no reaction to his behaviour by his mother: when he was in his late teens, she had sent him to a psychiatrist for an interview “which lasted ten minutes and was never mentioned”. But then the family are unused to talk about their feelings: as in Mendelson’s earlier novel, “The Daughter of Jerusalem” (see my Amazon review), dialogues are often full of unfinished sentences, beating around the bush in embarrassment, or because a character is not allowed to finish sentences which another character doesn’t want to hear.

The tone (though not the substance) of the novel is humorous, at times rather manically so. The observations about a particular section of the Jewish community in London's Hampstead are gently satirical. There is a seder meal; the buying of the ingredients for it and their preparation has been elaborately described. It has been arranged by Claudia for some forty family members, friends, publishers and publicists (and one person who was not invited). It is intended to reestablish Claudia’s position in the community, to pull the family together - and to celebrate the imminent publication of her book. Needless to say, it is an occasion full of tensions.

The denouement sees Norman, Leo, even Frances no longer cowed by the matriarch. And Claudia does not crumple. She accepts.

The characters in “The Daughters of Jerusalem” had, in my view, much more credibility than those in this novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Very easy to read. Oct. 6 2013
By Janine Hardy - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The story of a headlining female British Rabii and her family is one of laughter, tears and eccentricities. I'ts also about keeping up appearances in a family that is expected to show it's best side to the world at all times and even to one another if that can be managed.
At the beginning of the book a crisis occurs and the fought for façade of the perfect family is shaken. Read on as you wonder what will happen as more cracks appear- will the family implode or learn to relate with realism?
There's a lot going on in this book and yet it's very simply written, no flowery words, a more economical style. Not something I usually go for but it works well.

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