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When We Were Bad: A Novel [Unabridged] [Paperback]

Charlotte Mendelson
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
RRP: 7.99
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Book Description

15 Aug 2013

From the Booker longlisted author of Almost English

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize

'The Rubin family, everybody agrees, seems doomed to happiness'

Claudia Rubin is in her heyday. Wife, mother, rabbi and sometime moral voice of the nation, everyone wants to be with her at her older son’s glorious February wedding. Until Leo becomes a bolter and the heyday of the Rubin family begins to unravel . . .

‘As intelligent as it is funny. A beautifully observed literary comedy as well as a painfully accurate description of one big old family mess’ Observer

‘Fast-paced and engaging. Brilliant, touching and true’ Naomi Alderman, Financial Times

‘Absolutely spellbinding, so funny, so moving, so totally believable’ Jacqueline Wilson

‘Intelligent and witty. The Rubin family may be a singular one but the delights and the difficulties its members have with sex and spirituality, food and domesticity, expectation and achievement, will have a universal appeal’ Sunday Telegraph

‘Funny and emotionally true, this is a comedy with the warmest of hearts and the most deliciously subversive of agendas’ Book of the Month, Marie Claire

When We Were Bad is a warm, poignant and true portrayal of a London family in crisis, in love, in denial and – ultimately – in luck..

Frequently Bought Together

When We Were Bad: A Novel + Daughters of Jerusalem + Love in Idleness
Price For All Three: 17.57

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  • Daughters of Jerusalem 5.59
  • Love in Idleness 6.39

Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (15 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330449303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330449304
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 54,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


'Charlotte Mendelson's novel follows her previous two in focusing on British Jewish family life' -- Daily Telegraph

'Combining frankness with a sharp and intelligent humour, When We Were Bad is an irresistible treat.'
-- Guardian

'Mendelson combines a scattering of Jewish vernacular, wit, and appealing character portraits in her warm prose.' -- Culture, Sunday Times

'Now this intense and funny tale of a priceless family ruled by a glamorous female rabbi is back.'
-- Jewish Chronicle

'Relentlessly good; crammed with brilliant, skewering details, for which Mendelson has a magpie's eye.' -- The Observer - Pick of the Paperbacks 2008

'This is the wickedly funny and poignant story of a Jewish family in crisis, beautifully observed and painfully authentic.' -- Daily Mail

'When We Were Bad is relentlessly good: crammed with brilliant, skewering details, for which Mendelson has a magpie's eye.' -- Observer

'With not a work wasted, this elegant and witty drama is part family saga and part romantic comedy...' -- LondonCareers.net Magazine

`Charlotte Mendelson's portrait of a Jewish family in crisis is both extremely funny and acutely painful...' -- Sunday Telegraph

`full of cute characterisation and bone-dry detail.' -- The Scotsman

About the Author

When We Were Bad, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and was chosen as a book of the year in the Observer, Guardian, Sunday Times, New Statesman and Spectator. Charlotte Mendelson is also the author of Love in Idleness and Daughters of Jerusalem, which won both the Somerset Maugham Award and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Almost English, her fourth novel, was longlisted for the Booker Prize.



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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good quality soap opera with substance ... 11 Aug 2008
I really love it when I hit upon a book that is light and perfect for a holiday read, without being vacuous or cliched. This is one such book.

The story is set in London and centres around a female Rabbi - Claudia Rubin - who is very well respected and loved in the community. She is there for her congregation when they need her, thoughtful to a fault and always dresses and behaves impeccably. Her family life seems perfect to the outside world and the Rubins are envied far and wide.

But, you never know what's going on behind closed doors and when her son decides to leave his fiance - at the altar - to elope with the wife of a fellow Rabbi, it becomes clear that all is not well with Claudia Rubin's family.

From this point the illusion of happiness that has cloaked her family begins to untangle. The story is amusing and light - it feels like a good quality soap opera with substance! You can't wish for more than that for a holiday read surely?!

Incidentally, as someone who knows little about the Jewish faith, I greatly enjoyed reading about Jewish celebrations and the amazing preparations that go into them ... this was all weaved seamlessly into the story.

Give yourself a treat and read this book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book 5 July 2008
I only really review books I enjoy and this one was great. The family complexity and the challenges of a mother forced to relinquish control, as well as the beautiful cultural experience - it is a very well written novel. The author strikes a great balance between creating a profound sense of loss, worry and complex family worries but it is tightly held together with love, and laughter and is very funny in parts. I would recommend you to read this book.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disorder Galore! 2 Sep 2008
Mendelson takes us to a very special wedding on the first page of this witty and socially incendiary novel. The Rubin family have turned out to see one of their members, their first son Leo, married before his Rabbi mother Claudia, easily the most exotic, creature in the world: `No one is interested in you. There is one star of this show: tall and distractingly voluptuous in sea-green silk devore. With her in their mist...who could not be happy?' Yet Leo strangely has other plans. He elopes before the congregation with the seductive wife of the presiding Rabbi and precipates the whole Rubin family into chaotic disarray. Claudia's control begins to slip. Her dutiful daughter Frances, once gratefully married to the monstrously complacent Jonathan, falls for the `boyfriend' of her younger sister and finds that attraction has its own surprises and rewards. Rebellion mounts and even Claudia's steady husband Norman has his own preoccupations and secrets. Mendelson's writing delights in its frothy intelligence, sudden illumination and underlining compassion for the disordering impulses that may unravel our tried and tested lives, yet also redeem us, as we discover who we really, honestly are.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
The final paragraph of When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson finds Claudia Rubin, main protagonist and rabbi, writer, mother extraordinaire sitting down to write her family the 'love letters they deserve'.

This ending could just as easily be a beginning and we wonder whether the Rubins will achieve just that. Will they manage a new dawn with honesty at its core, for honesty is something the Rubins find themselves alarmingly short of. They are, without exception, a conflicted family.

There's Leo the porn buying eldest son who runs off with a rabbi's wife and Frances the dependable one who secretly grapples in search of the love that should come naturally but hasn't, not for son, nor husband and step-daughters. There are the younger siblings who exist in a supported state of perpetual youth and of course their father, Norman, the retiring husband who has done anything but retire, squirrelling himself away instead to write the acclaimed book his wife has been dreaming of for herself.

That Claudia has never before 'dared' to write these letters says something of the paradoxes that define this Jewish clan. They inhabit a world of contradiction where family is everything yet nothing, where siblings and parents frantically call each other for hourly updates yet remain entirely oblivious to what is really going on right under their noses, where the reliable become the unreliable and where the preoccupation with real food and its plentiful abundance underlines the near absence of soul food, of genuine understanding and spiritual nourishment. That the family exists under the watchful gaze of Claudia Rubin, famous for her spiritual nourishment of strangers, is all the more ironic.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Family Dysfunction Novel 2 May 2008
I'm a big fan of Mendelson's work in general, and this novel did not disappoint. Although as a youngest sibling I might quibble with her tendency to sympathize with eldest siblings, her depiction of familial relationships and conflicts is unparalleled.

As someone with a female rabbi in her family, I appreciated her humanization of Claudia Rubin, the matriarch and rabbi around whom the other characters (and the action of the novel) revolves. I was particularly fascinated by the idea of someone who can connect with and lead strangers, but fails to connect with and lead her own family. While other reviewers here might feel that rabbis must demonstrate spiritual leadership, in the familial realm that's often not the case. Rabbis can be people with problems too.

Most importantly, Mendelson's writing is positively propulsive. It's rare to find a literary writer, with such creative and original language and imagery, who can also drive a page-turning plot. I had to force myself to slow down to appreciate the writing, because I kept speeding up to find out what was going to happen!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Readable,but too much improbable behaviour
There are all sorts of improbabilities in this novel. The first is right at the beginning, when the thirty-four year old Leo Rubin abandons his intended bride Naomi just as she... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ralph Blumenau
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I like to finish a book if I start it but this failed to catch my attention so it will remain unread.
Published 2 months ago by karen brett
4.0 out of 5 stars Intense
You get to see inside the heads of all the members of one big family as some look for their boundarie. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Rosemary Blake
5.0 out of 5 stars When We Were Bad Charlotte Mendelson
The first time I have read any of this author's books and I will certainly be reading more. Great story about a rather dysfunctional Jewish family but beautifully written
Published 3 months ago by Moyra Spencer
2.0 out of 5 stars Not my cup of tea
I found this hard going and gave up after a few chapters. The problem was that I simply did not care enough about the characters because they were so uninteresting and the author... Read more
Published 3 months ago by S. Norman
2.0 out of 5 stars Finishes just when it could have become interesting
I read this as part of a book group. Learnt a lot about Jewish family and religious life but the supposedly successful matriarch has a crushing and destructive effect on the lives... Read more
Published 3 months ago by John Plummer
3.0 out of 5 stars hmmmm
Nothing grabbed me, found it all a little tedious and boring. I first thought it would be a story that shook the foundations of Jewish faith but it sort of turned out to be how... Read more
Published 5 months ago by M. Martin
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy read
Predictable but enjoyable page turner. Reasonably interesting characters and the story held my attention throughout. Would recommend to anyone interested in feminist issues..
Published 5 months ago by Hathor
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring charactors
very disapointed after reading all the good reviews this book got. Found I just did not connect to any of the charactors in the book and by the end did not care what happened to... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Michelle McDonnell
3.0 out of 5 stars When we Were Bad
The story is well told and an interesting take about a dysfunctional family. However I would have liked the story to have gone a little bit further and provided an insight to what... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Kathy Lewis
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