Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Believers/Zoë Heller

Whereas Notes on a Scandal employed the services of an embittered yet wryly perceptive narrator, The Believers casts a wider net, this time opting for a third person narration which cunningly absorbs the conflicting perspectives of the assorted characters whose lives it intersects. We follow this tangle of delightfully toxic and brittle souls as they proceed to negotiate their tense and often vicious encounters and are treated to glimpses of their anger, resentment, shame, weakness, and self-loathing. Such sentiments are expressed (and repressed) with varying degrees of honesty and venom, ranging from enthusiastic precision to resigned politeness. Along the way, each character’s respective values and convictions are tested, discredited, abandoned and amended (hence the novel’s slightly crappy title).

Heller’s decadent mix of linguistic flourishes and biting humour - immediately apparent in her previous novel – is perhaps more restrained here, waiting until after the understated prologue to come into play and wow the humble reader. Save for the occasional slip, Heller avoids common cliché in both her descriptions and her details which touch on human weakness with nuggets of piercing accuracy and that clever breed of wit which wavers between sardonic and sympathetic.

If Notes looked at an affair from the obsessive gaze of a bitter ‘friend’, The Believers casts a wavering eye around the edges of one, dipping into the personal stories of those on the periphery rather than exploring that of the key players. This is a more ambitious novel; the complexity of the family dynamics harder to negotiate, and consequently the potency is somewhat more diluted. Nevertheless, Heller has still crafted a thoroughly compelling novel which affirms that her skill for touching on multiple nerves is as finely honed and deftly spun as ever.

Uncut review joy (plus a snippet of synopsis)

Other opinions (it’s only fair):



Interview (just because)

How it begins (but remember that it gets better)

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