When We Were Bad (3 stars)

Charlotte Mendelson

When We Were Bad (Picador)


Charlotte Mendelson returns with a sweeping familial drama charting the decline and fall of a well-to-do, very Jewish London family funnelled through the revolving narrative ciphers of three characters in crisis. Rabbi Claudia, son Leo and daughter Frances Rubin are dragged into the emotional mire by the surfacing of repressed feelings and the struggle to maintain the appearance of success. The only escape seems to lie outside of domesticity and in the arms of illicit lovers.

The author herself strives for a realism inflected by individual consciousnesses, coming off as an über-Jewish Virginia Woolf aspirant. The result is a cultural and sexual voyeurism set in the all-too familiar realms of middle-class angst. As a family saga it’s certainly diverting but this book will not change your life. It will, however, make the perfect gift for friends and relatives who set their literary clocks by Richard and Judy and if it is picked up by book groups could do very well.

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