SEVEN CIRCUMSTANCES

Book Reviews & Essays on Literature

The Believers, by Zoë Heller

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The Believers, by Zoë Heller (Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books, September 2008)

The characters in The Believers are thoroughly nasty and badly behaved, yet Heller’s delicate descriptions of their mindsets and her understanding of the human psyche compel the reader to finish the novel. The family members central to this novel are irritating and impossible to like, yet weirdly fascinating. Their search for individual truths and stabilizing beliefs will resonate with most readers.

Written with clarity, conviction and dry humour, it is gripping from about p. 3 right to the end. Fair warning, the first few pages need wading through before the momentum kicks in, and thereafter you get so concerned about the outcome that you are tempted to skim to the end – but don’t! Every word is finely crafted and worthwhile.

I cannot resist this quote by Heller, commenting on reviewers and critics who have suggested that she likes creating nasty characters.

“…it begins to seem like it’s an issue with the books I write. […] Quite often people say, “Ooh, what a monstrous character”, and “Who is there to like in this book?” […] I very strongly feel that the job of fiction is not to write admirable figures, but to imagine one’s way into all sorts of people, often people who ostensibly at least are deeply unlikeable or unpleasant.

The question is not whether you like them but whether you understand them.
( Zoë Heller, quoted in Lisa Mullen: “Zoë Heller on The Believers”, Time Out, 1 October 2008, rtrvd. 2016-03-06)

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