Monday, 6 June 2016

Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy (3.5/5)

First published: 1888
Page count: 148
The back says: ‘I wonder,’ cried Rose, throwing herself into the breach, ‘what Mr. Lee-Harrison thought of it all.’
‘I think,’ said Leo, ‘that he was shocked at finding us so little like the people in Daniel Deronda.’
‘Did he expect,’ cried Esther, ‘to see our boxes in the hall, ready packed and labelled Palestine?’
‘I have always been touched,’ said Leo, ‘at the immense good faith with which George Eliot carried out that elaborate misconception of hers.’
‘Now Leo is going to begin,’ cried Rose, ‘he never has a good word for his people. He is always running them down.’
‘Horrid bad form,’ said Reuben; ‘besides being altogether a mistake.’
‘Oh, I have nothing to say against us all,’ answered Leo ironically, ‘except that we are materialists to our fingers’ ends.’

I say: I had no idea what this fairly short novel was about, and picked it up at random, as I had never heard of it before. In certain ways, I am glad that I did because I did quite enjoy it at times.

Even though it also made me uncomfortable.

Reuben Sachs returns to London after some time abroad and we follow him and his Jewish relatives over the course of some months. Much to the family’s dismay – though nobody speaks openly about it - Reuben is paying too much attention to his less fortunate cousin Judith, who reciprocates his feelings. In a sense, the novel is about these two simultaneously trying to hide their feelings and trying to defy convention by seeking each other out and being conscious of their impossible love. It’s about the choice Judith has to make, which, in the 19th century, isn’t really that much of a choice at all.

These are the parts of the novel that I liked; being a part of their romance and especially following Judith’s train of thought.

This novel is also about Jewish families and how they relate to each other, and this is where my discomfort was brought forward. There are quite a few quotes and opinions about Jews that I thought were a bit much, but may well just be tongue in cheek. Having finished Reuben Sachs, I learned that many had labelled Levy’s novel as anti-Semitic, as she does paint them as materialistic, jealous, petty, snobbish and intolerant of other faiths. It wasn’t just a few characters, it was mostly the narrator, who also quite annoyed me.

Apart from the women constantly crying out things and opinions (as demonstrated by the short excerpt above), the annoying narrator and the quips about Jews, the writing was fine.

3.5/5 mostly due to Judith and the ending. 

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