The Elected Member by Bernie Rubens #bookerprize [review]
Just finished reading The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens – the first Booker prize winner on my list. This is an author about whom I knew absolutely zero only to discover that she was born in Cardiff which is about 12 miles from my home. So a local in a sense and I hadn’t even heard of her… oops.
Some quick searches on the Internet filled in some blanks however. The Guardian’s obituary gives some fascinating insights into Bernice Rubens’ approach to writing and the themes at the heart of her work. “I feel unclean if I don’t write,” she said once. “I don’t love writing. But I love having written.” What fascinated her was human relationships, particularly those within a family. She once remarked that, ‘I am concerned with the communication, or non-communication as is more often the case, between people and families’.
According to Janet Watts in this obituary, “Rubens showed the horrors that can lie behind net curtains and cosiness, polite conversation or an unexplained wink.” I didn’t detect any ‘horror’ in The Elected Member though she certainly reveals the secrets behind the curtains of a seemingly respectable Jewish family and the misery they endure when they see their beloved son/brother suffer the effects of drug addiction. But ‘horror’ would be over-stating it.
It started with a lot of promise – the first scenes of Norman waking up after another tortuous night believing his room is invited by silver fish, were engrossing. Even though its some weeks since I read the book I can still picture those shimmering things crawling their way from the skirting board.
I liked the way Rubens let her story unfold gradually, peeling back the layers of the family to reveal some of the underlying problems and the answers to some mysteries (why does the daughter persist in wearing little white socks well into adulthood?).
But the ending was disappointing – just too neatly wrapped up in some cathartic coming together of the remaining family members united at the deathbed of the patriarch and (we are led to imagine); with Norman cleansed. Hmm…
And the verdict?
Good in parts but not wonderful.
Footnote – added February 2017
I read The Elected Member – the winner in 1970 – as part of my Booker Prize Project in which I am trying to read all the winners since the prize was initiated in 1969. You can view the books read to date and some of the longlisted/shortlisted titles I’ve also read by looking at the Project page.