People ask how sometimes you can hear of a book and I heard about this one in two ways. Charlotte Mendelson was up for the Orange Prize for this novel and also because she was going to be giving a reading at Polari, the monthly event I go to. So instead of doing what I normally do, which is buy the book on the night, get the author to sign it and read it afterwards. This time I thought I would do my homework first.
‘When We Were Bad’ is primarily a tale of a near perfect family as it falls apart all around a wedding. I loved this book from the start ‘the Rubin family, everyone agrees, seems doomed to happiness’. I think it was the characters which actually if you look at them separately are a bunch of individuals with very few redeeming features, or so I thought at first, that make the novel such a joy to read. To start with I wanted to dislike them all in the end only two of them I couldn’t bare.
The head of the family is Claudia Rubin who not only is wife, mother and writer, she is also the first female Rabbi and has a sort of fame that though doesn’t get her invited to all the best parties and events puts a certain amount of pressure on r and makes her the woman everyone wants to be with. Her pride and joy is her family and as it falls apart so does she. I have to say I found her domineering character a little hard to take to at first but when you realise its because her family means so much to her you warm to her somewhat. Her husband Norman is a frustrated writer who lives in her shadow, however he is close to a major breakthrough that could make her the second most famous person in the family. There relationship is an odd one.
The children consist of Leo the golden boy who within chapter one has become an outcast of the family and the black sheep. Frances who appears happily married to an exceptionally boring husband soon follows suit to become the next black sheep of the family. The younger two Simeon and Em I couldn’t warm to at all throughout the book he was a lazy layabout bum and she just cried and whined a lot. That was there role throughout the novel and slightly enraged me. I actually sulked with the book and Mendelson for sometime over these two questioning if such bad characters can turn a novel sour, they don’t in this case.
I love a good family drama; my family have theirs continuously so it’s nice to read others. Mendelson seems to have an eye for a great set of storylines and an ear to listen and then create people who are ordinary yet flawed and colourful like normal human beings, this book never went into melodrama which I was grateful for. Though the ending actually made me cry, I liked the fact its all left to the reader decide what could happen to each character, some authors are scared of doing that or just feel their ending is the way it should be, end of. My first Mendelson read won’t be my last.