Fam­ily’s poi­soned legacy

The Re­mains of Love

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Alan Gold Alan Gold’s

By Zeruya Shalev Blooms­bury, 422pp, $29.99

IT’S al­most im­pos­si­ble to read Zeruya Shalev’s The Re­mains of Love with­out re­flect­ing on Molly Bloom ly­ing in bed at the end of Ulysses, mus­ing on love and re­demp­tion, sex and fam­ily, life and loss. Even the in­ner mono­logues of the Is­raeli nov­el­ist’s char­ac­ters ap­proach James Joyce’s stream-of­con­scious­ness tech­nique.

This is not to un­der­value Shalev’s ex­tra­or­di­nary achieve­ment in this lat­est novel, which demon­strates her vir­tu­os­ity with the mu­si­cal­ity of lan­guage and skill in ex­pos­ing the strengths and weak­nesses of or­di­nary peo­ple.

The Re­mains of Love is a book about ob­ses­sion. Os­ten­si­bly, it deals with a woman’s fi­nal days and her re­flec­tions on life and death. But be­neath the sur­face are un­der­cur­rents of the most pro­found emo­tions: the love of par­ents for chil­dren and its re­cip­ro­ca­tion, the strengths that bind fam­i­lies and the stresses that pull them apart.

As Hemda Horovitz, ap­proach­ing her 80th year, lies dy­ing in a Jerusalem hos­pi­tal, she pon­ders the na­ture of the room that has be­come her world. Her daugh­ter Dina and son Avner spend time with her, yet Hemda re­alises with a re­signed anger they do so out of duty and com­pas­sion, not love. Both are emo­tion­ally with­drawn to a point of cold­ness.

But in ex­tremis Hemda has an insight into her own childhood and up­bring­ing. She re­alises she has dam­aged her chil­dren; Dina des­per­ately wanted love and af­fec­tion whereas Avner felt suf­fo­cated by his mother. And this has car­ried through to her chil­dren’s re­la­tion­ships with their fam­i­lies.

Avner mar­ried his first girl­friend as an es­cape from his par­ents’ home and now suf­fers a love­less re­la­tion­ship. Dina has an un­happy re­la­tion­ship with her 16-year-old daugh­ter Nitzan. As Dina sees Nitzan grow­ing in­creas­ingly re­moved emo­tion­ally, she be­comes ob­sessed with adopt­ing another child, much to the horror of her fam­ily.

Avner is also con­flicted, blam­ing his up­bring­ing for the emo­tional prob­lems within his mar­riage. Vis­it­ing his mother in hos­pi­tal, he ob­serves a cou­ple nearby, and the way in which the woman gives such ten­der, lov­ing con­so­la­tion to the dy­ing man. The depth of love and em­pa­thy he ob­serves shows him how cowardly he has been by re­main­ing in his own love­less mar­riage, and he seeks out this woman to try to un­der­stand her re­la­tion­ship.

At times the nar­ra­tive is dif­fi­cult and the en­vi­ron­ment claus­tro­pho­bic, and Shalev’s re­fusal to use quo­ta­tion marks makes it hard to dif­fer­en­ti­ate be­tween re­flec­tion and re­al­ity, but The Re­mains of Love is an in­tensely sat­is­fy­ing novel. It makes us re­flect on our up­bring­ing, and the par­ent­ing of our chil­dren.

Shalev skil­fully por­trays the stark re­al­ity of a mother’s dy­ing re­grets and the con­se­quent eman­ci­pa­tion of her chil­dren. The Re­mains of Love is a novel from a writer at the zenith of her abil­i­ties, one who sees not just in­side the hu­man heart but deeply into the mind.

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