Raymond is a doctoral candidate writing a dissertation on Robert Burton's "The Anatomy of Melancholy" at the University of Toronto. Hannah, another Toronto resident, is going to Jerusalem in six days to study Torah at an Orthodox egalitarian Institute. The two hook-up at a party. Neither expects more than a one-night stand. But the attraction between Hannah and Raymond is an intense one and continues far beyond one night. They are passionate together, physically, emotionally, intellectually. They laugh a lot. In short, they're falling in love and have an extremely brief period of time to do so. They are aware and stressed by the limitations of their situation. Raymond is an atheist. He expresses himself with irreverent humor, and eloquence, on Judaism, Christianity and Islam in a memorable passage, which I would quote here if it weren't so long. On the other hand, Hannah has trouble explaining her journey to Raymond, and to herself. "What it is is a program for North American almost-assimilated Jews like me, who are messed up about their Jewish identity and want to deal with it. And they tell you, this is what being a Jew is, and you are one. Oh, and here's how you do all the things that make you Jewish." Their six days together take place in her sunlit attic apartment, bare now except for a bed, like an island in the middle of the room. They also spend some time at Raymond's place, a dark basement flat, and at a cottage on Enigma Lake, north of Toronto. Meals are shared at various ethnic restaurants, and in bed. They visit funky bars, drink wine, bourbon and crantinis, and explore each other's bodies, histories and minds.Read more ›
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Builds and satisfies21 Jun. 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
Raymond and Hannah seems at first like a pretentious little trip into the heart of an urban relationship. There's the very post-modern device of the author leaning into the text - in this case, he divides the book into short vignettes, emails, impressions, non sequitors and snippets of dialogue, all designed to create a layered and informative effect. Surprisingly, it works. The characters of Raymond and Hannah, and their lives as students and lovers, come vividly alive in this book. When their torrid affair ends and Hannah leaves to study in Jerusalem, she goes a disaffected and modern woman. While at the yeshiva, however, she encounters her Jewish roots and creates an identity as a Jew, a woman, a woman in a long-distance relationship with a Gentile, and a complete, nuanced character. Raymond is just as fully fleshed out. Their first week together is just as vivid, packed with the details and shimmers of Real Love that is vital in making an experimental piece of writing work. There are flaws here, as in everything. While perhaps vital as illumination to his character, Raymond's thesis is incredibly dull. The last third of the book is a touch confusing - the characters and the writing both lose a bit of focus. Overall, however, this is a charming and totally readable bit of fiction, and an interesting and modern meditation on identity, religion, finding one's place in the world, and love.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
So many words to describe this (audio) book...3 Jun. 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
...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.
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A quirky, original, bold, love story & a compelling read!12 July 2005
Jana L. Perskie
- Published on Amazon.com
Raymond is a doctoral candidate writing a dissertation on Robert Burton's "The Anatomy of Melancholy" at the University of Toronto. Hannah, another Toronto resident, is going to Jerusalem in six days to study Torah at an Orthodox egalitarian Institute. The two hook-up at a party. Neither expects more than a one-night stand. But the attraction between Hannah and Raymond is an intense one and continues far beyond one night. They are passionate together, physically, emotionally, intellectually. They laugh a lot. In short, they're falling in love and have an extremely brief period of time to do so. They are aware and stressed by the limitations of their situation.
Raymond is an atheist. He expresses himself with irreverent humor, and eloquence, on Judaism, Christianity and Islam in a memorable passage, which I would quote here if it weren't so long. On the other hand, Hannah has trouble explaining her journey to Raymond, and to herself. "What it is is a program for North American almost-assimilated Jews like me, who are messed up about their Jewish identity and want to deal with it. And they tell you, this is what being a Jew is, and you are one. Oh, and here's how you do all the things that make you Jewish."
Their six days together take place in her sunlit attic apartment, bare now except for a bed, like an island in the middle of the room. They also spend some time at Raymond's place, a dark basement flat, and at a cottage on Enigma Lake, north of Toronto. Meals are shared at various ethnic restaurants, and in bed. They visit funky bars, drink wine, bourbon and crantinis, and explore each other's bodies, histories and minds. Can two people find true love in less than a week - a love which will endure nine months of separation - especially when one is a Jewish woman who is going to study religion in Jerusalem, and the other is an atheist "goy?" Or is this just a fling?
Most of the novel takes place while the two are apart. Their communication, and some of the narrative, is conveyed through a series of emails between Israel and Canada. However, in between their correspondence, the book offers vivid and convincing glimpses of both characters' lives. Hannah's euphoria at her spiritual and cultural development comes across with enthusiasm. She wants Raymond to visit Jerusalem during the last month of her stay, to see the extraordinary city for himself, and to learn about Israel. Both of them want to find out whether their relationship is still viable. Raymond's melancholia contrasts sharply with Hannah's exuberance. He is bogged down with his writing. Toronto is always dark and cold in winter and he, unlike Hannah, is not making new friends. Their polarities and irreconcilable differences are brought to the fore, just as their connection and similarities were initially. Yet, the couple remains drawn to each other, in spite of the impediments of geographical distance, culture and newfound, (newly made), personal problems.
Author Stephen Marche uses an interesting writing format for his novel. The margins act as a venue for a minimalist narrative which runs parallel to the main storyline. "Raymond considers Hannah's departure." "Hannah considers homesickness, desperation and loneliness in the past tense." "Hannah thinks about the name God." "Raymond address the peoples of the Book." It's a clever literary device that adds depth and wit to the novel. I wonder if Marche purposefully used the marginalia, because it so resembles Talmudic commentary.
"Raymond and Hannah" ("A Love Story") is a most compelling read. It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. A quirky, original, bold, love story, it is certainly contemporary, combining physical lust, spiritual longing, and intellectual quests, as well as a search for emotional intimacy. The landscape of Israel, its contrasts and contradictions, where the elements of modern life meet history, is beautifully, realistically, and often ironically depicted.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Raymond and Hannah exposes the boundaries of religious differences24 Sept. 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
This novel is a clear and honest portrayal of love in the face of culture clash - Raymond, the academic aesthete versus Hannah, in training to become "a good Jew". Whether or not the "love conquers all" mantra applies here is for the reader to find out. The unusual format might at first seem distracting, but pulls you in the more you read. An engaging first novel from Stephen Marche.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Suprisingly good read, one to remember22 July 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
This elegant story tells of a romance with nuance, charm, wit and some depth. The characters ultimately feel very real, despite the seeming unreality and coincidental nature of their meeting. The marginal notes that seem almost like journal entries on the side of the action add to the text, like a third voice in a three-part chord. Quickly, these notes become comfortable for the reader, as brief commentary on the action. The story concerns Hannah, who is Jewish and "finding herself" in Israel and Ray, who is not Jewish, a graduate student who remains in her native Canada at this time; the story describes how their relationship is affected by their separation and their separate challenges. In the end, the story also very quietly, without much fanfare suggests how the trajectory of the relationship very subtly echoes the pain and possibilities in the cultural and political situation Israel confronts with its Arab neighbors. This is a quiet subtext, yet appears to be present and nicely surfaces near the end of the text. In the end, the story may be about all such encounters with difference where there is also deeper relationship. It was a surprisingly good read, a romance with some depth. Like a fine dessert, it's sweet, a little bit rich and textured, yet not unhealthy.