Friday, December 2, 2022

Jewish Book Month: Set Before 1900


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

I originally reviewed this book in 2011.

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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