Survival by Waspish Wit

This is my review of The Believers (Penguin Street Art) by Zoë Heller.

The characters are more important than the plot in this tale of the very different, admittedly rather exaggerated members of a New York based family, after successful left-wing lawyer Joel collapses in a coma.

Funny, imaginative, well-observed, this novel has the power both to entertain you but also enhance your sympathy for a varied group of initially unsympathetic characters, partly by revealing the complexity of their behaviour and what lies behind their flaws. We see, for instance, the reason for the mother Audrey's addiction to "saying the unsayable like it is" and how she is redeemed by the fact that this cruel honesty both gives her great resilience, and also, when least expected, prompts her to supply the necessary support to others e.g. to her daughter Karla, the most likeable character in the tale. Another reviewer has commented that she found it hard to believe that an innocent young English woman could have grown after forty years into the waspish character of Audrey, but I was fascinated by this example of how people can alter over time, as a reaction to what life throws at them.

Zoe Heller's writing is flawless in its striking imagery, witty, fast-paced exchanges and thought-provoking observations on people's motives and situations. New York is vividly evoked and the plot resists any final frantic attempt at the contrived tying up of loose ends. Instead, it meshes to a conclusion that satisfies by bringing us to partial acceptance and an understanding of the main characters, warts and all.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ 5 Stars

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