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Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Book Review: Daughters of Jerusalem by Charlotte Mendelson

Set in the claustrophobic world of 1980s Oxford, Daughters of Jerusalem tells the story of the Lux family and the façade of respectability that crumbles through the course of the novel. It's an hilarious and dark novel that perfectly captures the bitterness of life with vivid characters who jump from the page.

Chief amongst these is the eldest daughter, Eve, who loathes her younger sister with a passion. Phoebe is spoiled and always gets whatever she wants whilst intelligent Eve feels sidelined. As the novel progresses this loathing takes a more sinister turn and Phoebe's machinations against her sister have dire consequences. Mendelson's portrayal of Phoebe's selfishness is exquisite, especially because we've all encountered someone like that in our lives.

Jean Lux's attention to her daughters is diminished by the desire for some excitement in her boring life. Her husband is far more interested in a Lectureship that's threatened by the arrival of an old enemy and her friend, Helena, has a bombshell to drop about the nature of their relationship that impacts the whole family. I really enjoyed the development of that storyline and how it fit into the claustrophobic environment.

Ultimately, Daughters of Jerusalem is so enjoyable because it's so real. It melds the academic life with a dysfunctional family life. It doesn't shy away from showing parents with favourites and how this can affect the children. It's a novel about misunderstandings and things being left unsaid. The final chapters manage to bring everything together without tying it all neatly in a bow and there are some truly satisfying moments in the last third that are just reward for reading - even if the entire book wasn't enjoyable in numerous little ways.

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