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.)
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To all appearances, the fabled life of the Rubin family of Londonwith beautiful, brainy, and accomplished 55-year-old rabbi Claudia Rubin at the helmis 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
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