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Rubens, Bernice

wakefield home film family

(British, 1928–2004)

Born in Cardiff and educated at the University of Wales, Rubens's other career was in film-making. Psychologically interesting, her novels often deal with loneliness, rejection, bleak private worlds, and she was adept at mixing tragedy and comedy. She often wrote about Jewish characters. Begin with The Elected Member (1969). Norman, a barrister, is also a drug addict. His mind and relationships are gradually destroyed and he is committed to a mental hospital, seeing himself as the family scapegoat. This compassionate novel won the Booker Prize. Move to Go Tell the Lemming (1973), in which Angela Morrow experiences two reversals—her husband's betrayal, and then his change of heart when, bored with his mistress, he invites her to work on his new film on location in Rome. Love and hate are mingled; social politeness is a veneer.

Next read Mr Wakefield's Crusade (1985), a first-person narrative, beginning with a dead man's letter opened by Luke Wakefield, leading him into hilarious amateur detective work and obsession with a murdered wife. Go on to Our Father (1987): Veronica Smiles, an explorer, returning to the family home in Surbiton, is drawn to search her own background; different kinds of revelation arise from peeling off the layers. Humour and grief are in perfect balance. Highly recommended, The Waiting Game (1997) deals with old age, a home, and its residents. Funny and poignant, its underlying theme is survival.

Beryl Bainbridge, Alice Thomas Ellis, Philip Roth  GC

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