...unfortunately, the words that come to mind are mediocre, lame, lazy, shallow, and a phrase: falling way short of its potential. Did the other reviewers even read (listen to) the same book I did?
Where to begin. The characters of Ramond and Hannah are NOT fully nuanced, ever. Their lives away from each other are not vivid and developed. They are incredibly shallow characters-- not because of the week of sex-- although that part could have had some more emotional depth, too. They seem to have no real interior lives, and so they have nothing to share with each other.
I'm very critical of reviewers who review the book that should have been written instead of the book that WAS written... but I'm going to do that very thing. The premise was good. Two people meet, have a week of passionate connected sex, fall in love, separate to two very different lifestyles. Can their love sustain the separation and changes? Good idea.
But when Raymond and Hannah separate, their emails are one and two liners most of the time. This is why I say they are shallow and have no interior emotional or intellectual worlds to share with each other or through which to connect. I still have one hour to listen to, but up to this point, they only talk on the phone ONCE. Hel-LO! In love? I don't think so. They don't pour out the details of their lives the way people do when they're newly in love and want to know everything about each other. This is why I called the book "lazy." I think the author was just too lazy to do the work of filling out his characters. The novel has NO conflict. I would say this is just a very long short story, but even short stories have conflict. One of the reviewers above called this a "prose poem." Give me a break. That's just more laziness on the part of the author. I reminds me of kids in school who think that if they just write something out in lines with a capital letter at the beginning of each one, it automatically becomes a poem. And those long quotes from "Anatomy of Melancholy"? More laziness... let's increase the word count by quoting extensively from another book. Yeah, I'm sure those passages had something to do with the "plot," but by that time I didn't care about the characters any more.
I found it completely unbelievable that after only a few months in Jerusalem she felt familiar enough with Hebrew to read from the Torah at a service after only *one week's* focused preparation! People take months to prepare a Torah reading. To prepare herself in a week-- did not compute.
BTW, the ensemble of readers who performed this book made several pronunciation/usage errors (English words, not Hebrew words) that were pretty major. I don't know if these were editing mistakes or reading mistakes. I can only remember one of them: the comment was that someone was of a certain ethnic "extraction," but the reader said a certain ethnic "abstraction." There were a few others that escape me.
Edited to add: I finished the book, and alas, the last hour didn't offer anything to change the opinion I expressed in my review earlier today.
Before I comment on the last hour of the book, I must mention something that was INCREDIBLY annoying, and that was the incorrect presentation that emails back and forth get repeated "RE:"'s added to the subject line. That does not happen. When something is forwarded on repeatedly, you will get a chain of "FW: FW: FW:"'s, but that does not happen with "RE:." You can email back and forth with the same subject and it will still just be "RE: pie-baking," or whatever, no matter how many emails go back and forth. Geez.
I have comments about the last hour of the book that contain spoilers, so I've added them at the very bottom.
***WARNING! SPOILER FOLLOWS!**
Okay, so finally Raymond sleeps with someone else, a month before he is to go visit Hannah. There was NO inner conflict on his part leading up to this. Yeah, it's believable, but why now? Why not sooner?
And where is Hannah's struggle? The only conflict she's revealed so far is wondering what to do with her new Jewishness after the Institute. Hmmm... I gather there are quite a few Jews in Toronto. Now if, after Jerusalem, she were headed to North Dakota, or West Texas, then she might wonder how she would nurture her Jewish identity in those places where there are few Jews, but in a major cosmopolitan city-- no problem. Why doesn't Hannah form any major relationships in Jerusalem. She has some girlfriends, but their conversations never get very deep.
Judiasm is a religion of action, but her new discoveries about the ritual details haven't (so far) led her to making a commitment to *tikkun olam,* working to mend a broken world. Yeah, she's real high on candle lighting, but ritual gestures have to be accompanied by a Jewish life that extends out into the world. Maybe she figures this out during the last hour of the book.
Now, if Raymond had become involved with Laura much earlier, AND if Hannah had started an affair with her married rabbi Jack Katz, or contemplated becomine ultra-orthodox and staying in Jerusalem permanently, or met a very attractive and Jewishly committed Israeli man, or decided to join the Israeli Defense Forces-- THEN we might have some actual plot elements.
I realize I still have an hour to go, so maybe there will be some earth-shaking events before the end of the book. I keep listening because I can't believe how bad this is, how lame, how mediocre... but I said that already.
If I have any major insights after I finish the book, I'll be back with more comments. The way I feel now, I suggest you avoid this book.
Edited to add (after finishing the book):
Raymond confesses to Hannah that he slept with Laura almost immediately after it happens. But she still wants him to come to Jerusalem. That doesn't work for me. But anyway, he goes, their visit is awkward except that they fall back into the pattern of the first week-- lots of sex and eating but no talking. These two don't have a real conversation at all in this book. Maybe this is really "Last Tango in Paris."
One strange thing really stands out: the trip to Hebron. That is so vivid and such a compelling narrative that I'm forced to conclude that this author didn't write it. He probably knew someone who took a trip to Hebron and emailed him about it, and he just lifted their entire narrative. Sure enough, when Raymond and Hannah get back to Jerusalem, the book slips back into the pseudopoetic oneliners and terse, cryptic dialogue.
After Raymond comes to Jerusalem, he and Hannah never once declare their love for each other (she is still pissed about the affair, but not too pissed to sleep with him), and yet at some point out of the blue, Raymond states that he wants them to be together and they can raise their children Jewish. It's not clear if he is addressing this declaration to her or to himself. And what was the basis for this change of heart?
Raymond's couple of diatribes against religion are also out of the clear blue sky and no basis is given by the author for Raymond's point of view. Why does he feel this strongly? Is it emotion-based or logic-based?
Anyway... enough. This is one of the most trivial and worthless books I've ever read, and it's sad because the premise was a good one.