I didn’t really like Naomi Alderman’s novel, Disobedience.
I found it kind of annoying. But it has stayed with me for some time, near the surface, too. Maybe I don’t like it because it hits oddly close to home.
The characters bothered me. I believed in them; I just wanted to smack some sense into them. The books main character is an adult woman, travelling back to her childhood home in London after her father’s death. Her father was the spiritual leader of an extremely conservative sect of orthodox Jews who live apart from the world as much as they can following very strict, very rigid, gender roles. She left home after her mother’s death because she could not fit herself into the role of wife and mother which was the only option her father’s teachings allowed here. But because she has come to the end of a not very good relationship, hit a set of promotion roadblocks at work, and wants a final chance to make peace with her childhood ghosts, she returns to London to sort out her father’s things.
Her father’s community is less than thrilled.
Two of her childhood friends now married to eachother, round out the set of major players in Disobedience. The two friends both once loved her, but have since come to terms with the desires their community forbids. By suppressing their true desires, and following the rules, they have both become respected members of the community.
If you know what it is to walk away from family members who disapprove of you, maybe you can understand why I found these three so frustrating. In spite of all they’d been put through by the prejudice of their family and their community, they still seek their approval, they still seek their love. I understand that, but I also know that there comes a point when one must simply walk away. I wanted them all to just walk away.
So Disobedience was a frustrating reading experience for me. It’s also an excellent book, well-written with complex characters who address serious issues in an honest manner that does not produce neat endings. Disobedience is a book that has stayed with me a long time now.
Maybe I did like it.
I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B., several years ago. Since then Naomi Alderman has bcome something of a big deal. I’m still reading and writing in happy obscurity, however. As for Disobedience, it has risen in my estimation as time has gone on. I’ve not read any more books by Ms. Alderman, but every time hear about one I think, “She wrote Disobedience. That was a good book.”