The Remains of Love by Zeruya Shalev

It is a real joy to pick up a book by an author I have so far admired and feel that admiration deepen. The Remains of Love is the second novel I’ve read by Zeruya Shalev, and though Love Life has a very different tone Shalev’s talent for transcribing the jumps and spirals of thought and emotion is eloquent and intense, as if you really are stepping into someone else’s mind. I find her writing intoxicating, such that it’s hard to tear myself from the page.

The Remains of Love follows the last year of Hemda’s life through her own and her children’s voices and, despite the lack of marked labelling, each voice is so distinct there is no confusion over who is speaking.

This last year of Hemda’s life is full of the emotional turmoil that terminal illness brings. Hemda and her children, Avner and Dina, re-evaluate their lives in the face of death: Hemda revisits her childhood and her decision to leave the kibbutz with her family; Avner confronts the difficulties of his marriage; Dina faces the menopause and a teenage daughter with a longing for intimacy.

It is easy to describe these plotlines in such a way as to make them banal. Even when you add in the problems of inter-familial relationships that exist in abundance between the three characters one could still approach this topic with a sentimental touch, but The Remains of Love is so much more. Longing and desire are not just about a need to love and be loved, to create bonds stronger than law, they stretch out into the politics of identity of the self as well as the state. The writing is sharp and bursting with all the vivid turns of consciousness.

I want to write more about what happens to Hemda and Avner and Dina. I want to share the beauty of Shalev’s family myth in which death and life spring from each other, and the brilliance in which nature and nurture are compared at all levels from leaves in the breeze, empty fishing nets and drained lakes, to children and adults locked in the chains of their upbringing by both parents and state. Were I to do this the unravelling of the plot would be spoiled so I merely promise you an engrossing and intelligent read.

For people who love writing to transport them into the minds of others, who want their experience challenged and expanded, who want to live through others’ eyes, this is your kind of book.

As I read The Remains of Love I felt myself returned to my adolescent self, reading the classics for the first time, indulging in an intensity of shared experience that left me with a kind of ecstatic mania. There are few writers capable of this combination of intellect and raw emotion that creates works whose beautiful shape and form carries emotional and philosophical punch. If I were part of the Nobel Prize literary team, I’d put Zeruya Shalev’s name on my list.

Next week I’m reading The Death House by Sarah Pinborough followed by Gospel Prism by Gerald Weaver. My Authors QH starts this week too. Watch out for updates.

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