Wednesday, March 2, 2011

REVIEW: Reuben Sachs, by Amy Levy

Reuben Sachs, by Amy Levy. Published 2010 by Persephone Books. Literary Fiction.

I read Reuben Sachs for the recent Persephone Reading Weekend, hosted by CardiganGirlVerity and Paperback Reader. It's a short novel and an easy read for a rainy day or two.

I can't say I was crazy about it, though. It's basically a love story of sorts and a society satire of Victorian Jewish life. Judith Quixano is attractive and well-off; she is in love with Reuben Sachs, an up-and-comer and someone she's known her entire life. In fact Reuben and Judith are cousins of sorts, albeit informally, and it seems like no one really looked at either as a match for the other. But she loves him passionately and he loves her, too. But she's under pressure to marry someone else.

The novel was originally published in 1888 and it's very much a product of its time, with mannered language and a lot of stereotyping. But it is intended to be a satire so I forgive it the stereotyping. It just seemed like it took an awfully long time to get to the point, and then resolved itself very, very quickly. In other words the pacing was all off and Levy seems to have spent most of her time building up a portrait of the society in which the characters live, and not enough on the plot. And what there is of plot is sort of depressing and hopeless, and that epilogue really drives those final nails into the coffin, so to speak.

It strikes me as a lesser book in the vein of Jane Austen, set in a particular niche of British society not often depicted. So it's not terrible; it's just sort of not great. I'd recommend it to Persephone readers and to committed readers of Jewish fiction, since Jewish life of this particular time and place is not often addressed. The book was not well-received when it was published and sadly Levy committed suicide at the age of 27; I'm glad Persephone rescued it because I do think that people really invested in Jewish literature would enjoy the window it offers into a little-known world.

Rating: BORROW

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FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

9 comments:

Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Hmmm! not much to say. I participated not in that challenge nor any other due to what I had always lamented about, inaccessibility of the books. I have found the dialogue books set in such era too conscious and like you said it is a reflection of the era. Interesting and pithy review. A book I might pass.

bermudaonion said...

I think I'll skip this one - thanks for the review.

Zibilee said...

I am sorry this one was not exactly to your tastes. It sounds like it could have been an interesting read, but suffered from to many flaws. I don't think I will end up reading this one.

Rayna Eliana said...

Thanks for your honest review, as always.

Danielle said...

Glad to read your review. Sounds like it might be worthwhile for the description of Jewish life in an era that we don't associate with Jewish life.

Danielle said...

I had another thought - did you ever read Daniel Deronda? I haven't read the book, but recently saw the mini-series from 2002 with Hugh Dancy (who I love). I think the time period is similar to this book (a bit earlier perhaps). I was impressed, and frankly surprised, by the positive presentation of Jews in DD. I wonder how the presentation of Jewish life in that book compares to this book. Any thoughts?

Marie said...

Danielle, Levy actually wrote her book as a response to the romanticized portrayal of Victorian Jews in that book.

Rebecca Reid said...

I thought this sounded like an interesting premise but it doesn't sound like it was well pulled off or satisfying! Too bad. Probably one I'll pass on, since I'm hoping to keep having pleasant experiences with Persephone books!

Audra said...

Lovely, honest review -- I love Persephone Books and will like pick this one up -- but laterly!