We are Jerusalem in the 1950s and a young woman, Hannah, meets her future husband, Michael, by chance as she stumbles down the stairway of the college building where they are both studying. Michael stops Hannah from falling and, as she is somewhat shaken, he takes her for coffee to recover, and so starts their romance which quickly leads to marriage and parenthood.
Hannah, intelligent, opinionated, passionate and given to flights of fantasy, which are borne out in her vivid night time dreams, finds life with Michael, who is quiet, studious, gentle and sensible, to be something of an ordeal at times. She admits she loves him, but feels compelled to taunt and belittle him when he does not behave in the way that she wishes he would. Depressed after the birth of their son, Yair, Hannah escapes into her fantasy world, where her suppressed desires can be given full rein, but this escape does not really help her, for she becomes more unstable and volatile until she makes herself very ill. Michael, so down to earth, struggles to understand his wife, but in doing so he often causes Hannah more irritation followed by genuine remorse.
Amos Oz's 'My Michael' is the story of a marriage between two quite different people and of their lives during the unsettled period after Israel gained its independence, and this unsettledness is paralleled in Michael and Hannah's marriage. However, against the periods of instability, the author builds up a picture of quiet domesticity, as we read how Michael returns home from work and devotes two hours each evening to his doctoral thesis; how Hannah asks Michael to read her a few pages of his work and she notes the peacefulness of his voice; his desk lamp; his glasses; the relaxed pose of his body in the armchair as he talks. Hannah goes on to note that occasionally an argument will start between them, followed by calm and they "smile like two strangers who met by chance on an ill-lit staircase; embarrassed but very polite".
As the author himself states in his introduction to the book, there is no real plot to speak of, but a book like this does not rely on a plot; the story is developed by the emotionally rich language and sensitive imagery used by Oz to convey what it is that he has to say. There is a deepness and thoughtfulness to this novel with its carefully conceived and composed writing which gently nudges the narrative along and for this, it deserves the four star rating I have given it; however, if I am entirely honest I found its tone a little too melancholic and wished for a more resolved ending between Hannah and her Michael.