on 8 March 2006
Ronit, a young orthodox jewish woman from Hendon escapes her past and moves to New York where she does everything a orthodox jewish woman shouldn't - she wears trousers, has sex with people who aren't her husband - even someone else's, smokes and drinks. Her father, the rabbi, then dies and she returns to go to his funeral and she returns to everything she escaped from - the petty jealousies, the stifling community and also to a childhood sweetheart.
I loved this book - it provided an insight into a world and a religion that I knew very little about and I loved the characters and found it moving and engrossing.
It has been lauded as the next Brick Lane but I enjoyed it much more than Brick Lane as I found the characters less stereotypical and I loved the warm wit and the great writing.
on 28 February 2006
This might not be what a forty-something bloke would normally read - a lesbian exploration of friendship and morality set in the heart of London's orthodox Jewish community - but I loved it. It is suffused with warmth, the characters feel fully formed, genuine and likeable, their dilemmas real. I felt I was getting an insight for another world, one packed with rigid religious rules alien to me, but also the sort of petty morality, gossip and bitchiness that are universal. Step aside Monica Ali and Brick Lane, it's time for north London to have its moment in the sun - and Disobedience in the book to do it.
on 13 March 2014
I read this after having heard Naomi on R4, and I wasn't disappointed. My main gripe is that it felt quite short - I have a lot of interest in other cultures that lie immediately alongside but rarely intersect my own, and I would have liked the author to have explored more around the actual fulfilment, as adult women with kids, of the girls that used to come top in science at school. I'd also liked to have found out more from Dovid's side (as a figure of male religious authority) regarding the reconciliation of Orthodox beliefs with contemporary non-Jewish social mores, given that the character said 'Excellent!' approvingly when Ronit confessed that she'd made something up just piss someone off. I know that it's a very insular community, but it can't be entirely hermetically sealed from a cultural perspective.
Also, any sympathy I had for the main protagonist was lost pretty much immediately after something that occurs towards the end - I won't say anything more, but I am curious whether I took this the way that it was intended.
on 10 March 2006
This book is brilliant. The story-line is addictive - once you're past the first chapter you really do want to keep reading to find out what happens next.
I love the way each chapter has its own mini introduction explaining the background to the religious theme behind the story-line.
There are a couple of very tiny bits where you can predict the plot, but they don't ruin the story at all - in fact they make you want to read more to find out if you're right and also how it affects the story.
I think everyone should read this book - those who are even slightly open minded will love it because the religious aspects and lesbian parts won't worry them. Those who aren't open minded at all should read this book too to realise that this book shows how all people go through the same things - social acceptance issues, fitting in even amongst your own kind etc etc etc. It is a book everyone can relate to in their own way.
I think this will permanently be a favourite of mine!
on 15 February 2014
Disobedience is set in an Orthodox Jewish community in Hendon, a suburb of London. The spiritual leader of the community dies, and the lay plutocracy attempt to groom his ambivalent protege as successor. Meanwhile the deceased rabbi's lapsed daughter appears on the scene from New York, and stumbles into re-kindling her teenage love affair with the woman whom the successor has now married. The successor, the wife and the lover work through their relationships against a background of religious duty and small-town politics. The writing alternates in chapter-sized chunks between a third person narrative style and a first-person style from the point of view of the daughter.
This book is short and I found it mostly satisfying. The love triangle and its three characters are introduced through emotions, memories and intelligently used religious texts, with descriptions of Hendon setting the scene. I thought the characters and their transformations were interesting and mostly plausible. I found the writing built up tension very well, with the husband's funeral oration for the dead rabbi looming, and rumours growing his wife's same-sex attraction and the daughter's lifestyle. I was absorbed as the main characters trode delicately, trying to resolve their own feelings in the little privacy that was available.
However, I was really disappointed in the way the tension was resolved. In the climactic scene, the henceforth reticent wife gives an incongruous coming-out speech in front of the most conservative elements of British Jewry, alongside suggestions of unexplained gender-bending by her husband. From there till the end of the book the author abandons any further development of the characters' feelings or relationships, and incongruously rolls out gay fiction's most hackneyed tropes: the triumphal, exhibitionist snubbing of social expectations, the humiliation of a caricatured conservative villain, the aftermath where the characters become the centre of attention within a small, loyal circle. The end. It could have been so much better!
Nonetheless there is enough good in this book that it will reward the short time taken to read it.
on 12 May 2013
I saw this book after reading 'The Innocents' by Francesca Segal and after reading the write up and reviews I added it to my Wish List for the future.
This is a book written from two perspectives, Robot's and Esti's, two women born into the same Hendon Orthodox Jewish community but one has left and one has stayed. Without giving away anything from the plot there is something that holds them together from their shared pasts.
Ronit's father, the Rav has recently died and Ronit is returning from New York to sort out his papers and close up the home. Ronit is successful in her chosen field as a Corporate financial analyst but having just come out of an affair with her married boss, the trip to London, though unwelcome, gives her a little breathing space.
The story takes us into the closeted world of her old community, the perceived claustrophobia and the feelings of being watched, judged and found to be lacking. Ronit in her status as an unmarried woman is seen as something of a half person; not fully matured and though it is not mentioned I had the impression she was seen as a disappointment to her late father's memory.
This is one of those books where you, the reader is taken into other people's lives and given a snap shot of their circumstances and events and this reminded me of Anne Tyler. Naomi Alderman doesn't write in a dramatic style, even the dramatic moments in this book are played down but that is what I enjoyed about this, she has a way of writing that seemed quite beautiful, especially in her description of the Shabbat preparations.
I shall be reading her other books at some point in the future.
on 31 August 2012
I read this book recently, a few years after it came out, when I moved to an area with a strong, longstanding Orthodox Jewish community close by. Not being Jewish myself, I wanted to find out more about this community, and this book didn't disappoint. It's really interesting & informative (in terms of finding out about a culture one may know little about). It's a novel by Naomi Alderman who is an Orthodox Jew herself and even though remains part of her Orthodox Jewish community in NW London (if I understand correctly), she has retained a critical & interesting 'distance' from it, enough to make her able to write this book. I think the book caused a stir in the community when it first came out as it deals with difficult subjects such as homosexuality and rebelling against a strictly religious, culturally insulated way of life.
I enjoyed 'Disobedience' as a 'window' into this community, which as I said I knew little about. The story has to do with the difficulties and challenges arising from growing up in a fairly inward-looking community, with strong boundaries separating it from the surrounding world. It's the story of Ronit, a Rabbi's daughter, who after growing up in a NW London Orthodox Jewish Community, rebelled & moved to NY City, leading a life as far removed from her roots as possible. The novel is about the time her father, the Rabbi, dies, with various repercussions in the community, and for Ronit herself who returns to her childhood home, only to find that a lot she thought she had left behind are in fact still struggles she has to deal with.
The plot is fairly conventional and doesn't hold many surprises (in terms of how the novel is structured). It's not spectacular as a literary text, but is a good, easy, quick read, sad & thoughtful at times, quite funny at others (particularly when describing the gossipy, easily shocked older women of the community; found in every single community over the world, I'm sure).
on 9 December 2007
A good first attempt, but sadly lacking brilliance. The idea of the book is excellent, and the character of, Ronit, engaging. Unfortunately, the other characters are misty and one-dimensional, and the plot a little uncertain in what it is trying to say. Another problem is the rather sweeping references to British Jews, as though this one particular sect epitomized the entirety of British Jewry. (No more daft than comparing the Wee Frees with all British Christianity.) It would be wrong to say this book was unenjoyable. There is certainly talent there. And perhaps these days we're too used to demanding a bestseller immediately from every writer who happens to be published. This author shows talent, and hopefully will learn from her mistakes and continue to grow.
on 13 May 2014
While working in London, I'd often spend free time trundling up on the Northern Line tube to Golders Green to observe a culture within a culture... but here is Hendon, another microcosm, exposed by Naomi Alderman in a dry, comical, but insightful way... our heroine has escaped to New York from what she perceives as a familial prison, yet returns to her London roots, to discover old loves, and to ask deep questions about her life's meaning. The novel twists and turns, there are comical episodes, perhaps a little stereotyped (i wouldn't know), but at its heart, an examination of how we are conditioned by birth and upbringing; is it nature or nurture? Can we ever change ourselves and our baggage?
on 24 November 2008
I had high hopes for this when I picked it up in the bookshop but I was ultimately left slightly unsatisfied. Having said that, much of it was very good. The 3 main characters are all highly engaging and I found myself caring about them and their very different - and very complicated -lives. Ronit is the wayward ex-Orthodox daughter of an erudite (now dead) Rabbi. She lives in NYC, and is a fully paid-up hedonist without even a nod to her former observant self. When her estranged father dies, however, she finds herself returning to all she scorns - namely the closed and judgemental world of the Orthodox Jewish Community in Hendon - and so rekindles past loves, friendships and rebellions. The 2 people who are caught in her orbit, past and present, are her cousin Dovid and her past lover Esti, now - shockingly - Dovid's wife. Dovid is diffident about filling the dead Rabbi's shoes and touchingly in love with his emotionally absent wife, who in turn believes she is still in love with Ronit......
Much of it, especially the complex inter-relationship between Ronit, Esti and Dovid, was beautifully done, and very engaging. There were also some laugh-out-loud moments, notably when Ronit gatecrashes a suffocatingly genteel Shabbat supper and scandalises everyone with her slit skirt and deliberately outrageous tales of lesbian loves and turkey basters.
But somehow something didn't quite add up. I found the introduction to each chapter - with a quote from the Bible/Torah/Jewish teachings irritating and alienating. I couldn't quite work out what they were there for - to show what Ronit was railing against? to cast light on a closed religion and its teachings? Hmmm. In the end I felt like I was at church being preached to, and found myself skipping them, which was obviously not what the author intended.
Nor did I find the denoument - Esti's moment of triumph - credible, much as I wanted to.
I suppose ultimately I found the characters were not quite complete. Perhaps the novel was too short, as I felt I was just getting to know them as it ended. When I put the book down I wasn't sure where Ronit was heading - or even Esti and Dovid - but maybe that was the point. I did enjoy the writing though, it was poetic without feeling self-conscious, and deeply felt. And sometimes very funny. I will be interested to read her next one...