WHEN WE WERE BAD by Charlotte Mendelson


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A witty assassination of North London Jewish matriarchy by an award-winning British novelist.

Rabbi Claudia Rubin is glamorous, brilliant and successful: “Everyone wants to join New Belsize Liberal, where famous authors come to Chanukkah parties.” Her watchword is family, and her own children are “attentive, affectionate, as close as a family can be.” However, as Mendelson’s mordantly comic novel (after Daughters of Jerusalem, 2003, etc.) opens, the entire Rubin edifice, built on secrets and assumptions, is about to crumble. Lawyer son Leo ducks his own wedding to abscond with Helen, the wife of another rabbi. Literary agent Frances, a failed mother and disappointed wife, is on the verge of a breakdown. Son Simeon may be both a sex and drug addict, and pretty Emily has started an affair with Jay, who looks like a very attractive boy but isn’t. Claudia’s husband Norman has concealed the fact that his latest obscure biography is likely to be a literary sensation that will eclipse her new book, a combination of memoir and handbook on the subject of family, the success of which is essential for financial reasons as well as Claudia’s self-esteem. So the family façade must be preserved at all costs. However, Frances has begun to lust after Jay, Norman is involved with another woman and Leo finds he cannot give Helen up. Matters come to a head at the Passover Seder, which also celebrates Helen’s publication but sees Frances walking out on her family. It’s Claudia’s own secret which eventually assists Leo and Frances to grow up and leave home, allowing Mendelson’s caustic satire to conclude on a note of forgiveness.

Slender, often farcical events are significantly enhanced by astute, affectionately mocking prose and a wicked but merciful intelligence.

Pub Date: Aug. 13th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-618-88343-1
Page count: 366pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2007