Cynthia Ozick is an 84 year old author who took four years to write this, her seventh novel. It has been shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012 and has been installed as 2/1 favourite by the bookmakers to take out the prize. The winner will be announced on the 30th May 2012. Ozick thinks writers should be judged on their work not their age. I agree with her. To me the author’s age had nothing to do with the quality of the novel, I also think the author’s age is immaterial to the novel.
The novel is set in Europe shortly after World War II and the book’s central character is Bea Nightingale (nee Nachtigall), a fifty-ish divorced schoolteacher who lives and teaches in New York. Her wealthy brother, Marvin, who lives in California asks her to travel to France to find his son, Julian and later his daughter, Iris. Bea has had nothing to do with her brother or his family but suddenly finds herself embroiled in their lives.
All the characters are well drawn, so much so that I found myself intensely disliking her brother, Marvin and feeling no remorse for his son, Julian. In fact I found the son quite annoying. The book has lots of different levels and themes, from anti-semitism, to life after World War II, to family expectations and life simply gone wrong. Everyone seems to have secrets, even good old Bea, to whom I felt drawn, had her secrets.
The novel switches between characters, perspectives and countries, New York to Paris to California. She skilfully captures the feel of Paris after the war and I particularily liked this quote when she is describing Paris -
“This light was different from California light: it fell out of a sky so much smaller, so much older: an old old sky, drooling wrinkled clouds.”
This latest novel is based loosely on The Ambassadors by Henry James. Overall I personally found it more enjoyable.