Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Believers” as Want to Read:
The Believers
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Believers

3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  4,486 Ratings  ·  784 Reviews
Zoë Heller, author of Notes on a Scandal and Everything You Know has written a comic, tragic tale about one family’s struggles with the consolations of faith and the trials of doubt.

When Joel Litvinoff is felled by a stroke, his wife, Audrey, uncovers a secret that forces her to re-examine her ideas about their forty-year marriage. Joel’s children will soon have to come t
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published 2008 by HarperCollins Publishers
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Dec 21, 2016 Srividya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Niemand ist mehr Sklave, als der sich für frei hält, ohne es zu sein.

None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective Affinities

Having been a reader since I guess forever, books for me fall into two categories; one that blow me away and one that don’t; books that are perfect in every sense and those that aren’t; books that have strong stories that move me and those that don’t; simply – books that I love and those that I
Mar 08, 2009 M rated it did not like it
I did not get this book AT ALL. Having read and enjoyed Notes on a Scandal (and if you can get past THAT premise you're good to go for just about anything) I was sure I would like her new one.
Well. For one thing, while she is an eloquent writer with a nice vocabulary, she seems to have fallen into this new wave writing style of 'how many details can I toss in to seem perceptive?' Yes theoretically I could write aobut my daily commute in my novel and tell you about how my metro card didn't go thr
Dec 18, 2016 Shalini rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who like strong characters
Recommended to Shalini by: Vimal Thiagarajan
Shelves: part-of-a-group
This is the type of book I love to read. Would never have read it if Vimal hadn't made me aware of its existence and its vow value. I was hooked at chapter 1 and till I finished it never looked at any other book.
The dark, pithy story of an American Jewish family, who are non believers and whose sole purpose of existence is socialism and humanitarian rights. Joel Litvinoff, the 71 year old lawyer suddenly succumbs to a thromboembolism and is comatose. His scathingly witty and vitriolic wife Audr
Mar 01, 2009 Sanchia rated it really liked it
Set in Heller’s adoptive US The Believers is a funny, highly original and adroit satire of New York’s liberal elite. The title, a wicked irony in itself, belies the books central characters, the Litvinoff tribe - a family of hard line antitheists who have rejected their Jewish heritage and proudly live by socialist values. The father Joel is a charismatic civil rights lawyer, his wife Audrey a raging pot smoking ultra-leftist. Their façade is shattered when Joel suffers a massive stroke and sudd ...more
B the BookAddict
Sep 24, 2013 B the BookAddict rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

GR suggests that Zoe Heller is a similar author to Lionel Shriver but I beg to differ. Having said that, The Believers is very much a readable novel in it's own right.

I have not written my own review because really, the best review is here:

A 4 ★ for this novel. I am disappointed Heller has written only one other book. Hope she gets another one to her publisher soon; she is a talented writer.
Vimal Thiagarajan
I picked this one up on the weight of Notes on a scandal, another book by Zoe Heller which had landed me into her not-exactly-thronging fan club, and right from page 1 I just couldn't have enough of it. The plot isn't something out of the box- A radical New York lawyer, Joel Litvinoff is felled by a stroke and his wife Audrey Litvinoff and their 3 children have to find ways to cope with the tragedy- but through a combination of piercing insight, disarming and unmitigated honesty and blazing sati ...more
Dec 21, 2016 Girish rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Girish by: Vimal Thiagarajan
Every once in a while you pick up a book with little hype and you get blown away. Believers was that book for me - a soap opera worthy storyline that comes as close to an entertaining piece of art - thanks to uninhibited writing! The title 'Believers' I imagined a subtle play on different type of beliefs - be it marital, faith, trust, confidence! (A fan sees things that even the author didn't maybe.. excuse)

The Litvinoffs family hits a fork in the road when the popular socialist humanitarian Joe
switterbug (Betsey)
Feb 26, 2011 switterbug (Betsey) rated it it was amazing
Zoe Heller is sui generis, a gutsy, peerless writer with master control of her narrative. This is a family saga that takes no prisoners. Her sardonic style is crisp, erudite. Her characters are not caricatures--as outrageous as they are, they feel true.

Audrey Litvinoff, the matriarch, is a flinty, pained woman with a major character disorder. While her husband lies in a coma, she is told some uncomfortable news about his dirty little secrets. With a kind of acerbic, acid aplomb, she spins into a
Jun 08, 2009 Veronica rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Zoe Heller excels at misanthropy. It can be funny (Everything You Know) or cringe-making (Notes on a Scandal) but here it just seemed to go a little too far. I felt like shaking Heller and saying, "You know, there are some people in the world who are kind and generous!". Not in Heller's world there aren't. Notes on a Scandal created a wonderful uneasiness, because I had a sneaking sympathy with Barbara while still being creeped-out by her behaviour. Here, Audrey is so horrible that you cannot im ...more
Mar 24, 2009 Beverly rated it it was ok
Shelves: literary, british
Not as good as Notes on a Scandal. This is a readable story of a politically progressive New York Jewish family whose celebrity lawyer father suffers a stroke. As he lays in a coma, his family scurries around trying to come to terms with their own lives. Sloppily written (edited?). Heller thinks that Americans say things like "I dare say", "have it", and "try it on". One of the daughters moves into Orthodox Judaism; Heller also doesn't know that unmarried Orthodox women do not cover their heads. ...more
Aug 17, 2009 eb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant, mean, funny--but will I sound prissy if I complain that each and every American character speaks like a Brit? I don't get it. Where's the editor? Where's the kindly American friend who'll read a draft and say, "Zoe, I love this book, but Yanks don't say 'That's not been my impression,' we say, 'That wasn't my impression,' and we don't say 'Don't let's declare it a failure,' we say 'Let's not declare it a failure.'" It made me sad that this novel, which I loved so much, distracted me o ...more
Indrani Sen
Dec 19, 2016 Indrani Sen rated it really liked it
Shelves: usa
A very engaging read about a very real, very dysfunctional family. The characters are really well portrayed.
Oct 22, 2010 Amy rated it really liked it
So, you bring this book on vacation. Your traveling companions notice you’re spending most every spare minute with it and ask what it’s about. “Oh, a family of radicals living in New York. The father’s a famous lawyer and the mother’s British. The kids are rebelling—one is converting to Orthodox Judaism and another’s a drug addict and the third is trying to adopt a kid.” You’re met with a puzzled look and no requests to borrow the book.

It’s hard to explain why this is a great read if you only t
Akanksha Chattopadhyay
A tv worthy story where the focal characters happen to be "left-liberals".
Dec 26, 2016 Kru rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2016reads
This is one of those books that make me wonder why restrict ratings to just 5 stars.

The discussions on spirituality, religion, orthodoxy, above all Audrey and the reviews from friends was what prompted me to take up this book immediately. I was very much awed by Zoe Heller’s creepy and cold narration in her What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal and wanted to take up this book later, so that expectations don’t go awry.

Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.

Every belief system is built
Mar 23, 2009 Corny rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Zoe Heller weaves a wonderful tale of a dysfunctional family which loses its glue when its patriarch is felled by a stroke in the first chapter. The characters are believable and, for the most part, not very admirable. They struggle against each other, their surroundings, and finally against their dark sides. Audrey, the bereaved wife, with the mouth from Hell is counterintuitively a sympathetic character. Karla battles a weight problem, and Lenny a drug addiction while Rosa contemplates returni ...more
Bonnie Brody
Mar 05, 2012 Bonnie Brody rated it it was amazing
Zoe Heller can write. She is a master of acerbic wit, denigration, parody. sarcasm, and layered complexity. She writes with a sensibility that I can only compare to varying musical keys. Her story vacillates from the minor keys to the major, from melodic to dissonant, sometimes in the same paragraph.

This novel is about the Litvinoff family. There is Audrey, the mother and matriarch. She has an attitude like spoiled meat. She "was always congratulating herself on her audacious honesty, her willin
Feb 20, 2010 Roxanne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Book club selection for December.

I really liked Heller's writing, and her portraits of the characters were so unsparing and insightful. Unfortunately, some of the actions and dialogue don't ring true. The plot becomes a bit mundane and predictable, and only the completely outrageous and rather unbelievable actions of the protagonist(anti-hero?)keep the reader interested. I really like some of the story lines, but I feel like it would have been more effective as a collection of short stories rel
Nov 07, 2010 Sibyl rated it liked it
I found this novel highly readable. It was like eating decent quality chocolate. I wanted to go on and not stop till the story was done

There's a (very) sick father, an enjoyably monstrous mother, three 'problem' children and a few skeletons in cupboards. Overall we get a group portrait of the dilemmas of well-off progressive New York Jews in the early 21st century, as America lurches to the right.

And Heller's a good writer. The pace never slackens. There are some brilliant phrases and descriptio
Mar 23, 2009 Lauren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While this book was not as great as I'd hoped it would be, it reminds me that even disappointing novels are more engaging, vibrant and thought-provoking than bad TV. I didn't want to put it down. I felt the characters were a bit predictably static (and this wasn't part of some larger literary device), yet, they were all immediately familiar in an appealing way. I am a sucker for books that have something to do with leftist lawyers and their dysfunctional families (I loved reading Family Circle l ...more
Jul 18, 2009 Diana rated it it was amazing
Wow--I couldn't put it down--every character in this novel about a New York city family is so fully drawn and believable. The matriarch of the family, Audry, who is outlandish and entertaining, could have been cartoonish, but Zoe Heller deftly gives us insights into her behavior that make us accept her as a character. No one in the book is particularly loveable or noble, but that is what makes it so interesting, and fun. This book exposes people in all of their hyprocrisies and weaknesses, for b ...more
Apr 19, 2009 Briana rated it it was ok
I read this on the plane/in the airport yesterday in a few hours. It's a book full of characters who are either miserable or loathsome (or both), and it was fun to read in kind of a train wreck kind of way, but I can't really recommend it. I thought the satire of aging leftists in 9/11-era New York was overly broad, and was done much more effectively in The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud a few years ago. I really, really enjoyed Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller quite a bit, so this book was ...more
May 20, 2016 Elsa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not my cup of tea.

Me esperaba algo más. Estaba esperando un "descubrimiento devastador '- como se promete en la contraportada - y aún sigo esperando .

La única razón por la que le doy estrellas es porque está muy bien escrito y el personaje de Karla me ha gustado (aunque podría haber desarrollado más su historía sobre la infertilidad).
Sep 04, 2011 Wendy rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: good-riddance
It's well-written.

It flows well.

The characters are all people I'd like to throw under a bus. I've heard it said that it's not the job of an author to create characters you want to be best friends with. Okay, so maybe there are authors who like to explore themes and big ideas, and in doing so create a story with a purpose beyond storytelling. And maybe not all characters should be likable because it won't create any conflict and the story will be kind of flat and boring. However, there are enough
Nov 09, 2012 Kristin rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kasa Cotugno
Dec 14, 2009 Kasa Cotugno rated it really liked it
In a recent q & a following an interview with Zoe Heller, a woman who had already read this latest book complained that the characters were not likable, that she wouldn't want to have any of them for a friend. Unflappable, Heller rejoined that one shouldn't go looking for friends between the pages of books. Now that I've read the book, I have to disagree with the complainant. Yes, the mother and her two daughters at the center of this book have unattractive qualities, but that only makes the ...more
May 17, 2009 Katie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'll get back to you on this one, but my initial feeling is that while the prose can be wonderfully descriptive ("Up close, the three men were a small anthology of body odors"), the characters are so AWFUL, so sure of themselves in their political stances and moral superiority that even though it's clear that the author shares my opinion of them I am not sure I will be able to make it through.


It took me awhile to get back to this review, because I wanted to think about why I disliked the ch
Mar 11, 2009 Vicki rated it really liked it
I read "Notes on a Scandal" and really liked it, so I was eager to read "The Believers", and enjoyed it very much. I wanted to slap most of the main characters -- they were totally selfish and clueless about the needs of others -- but they were also very real. Despite being very annoyed with these people, the writing was so wonderful that I wanted to just keep reading. This book would be great for discussion, I think. It has lots of meaty issues and characters with lots of flaws to talk about! K ...more
Larry Hoffer
This was a terrific, thought-provoking book. Zoe Heller really is a fantastic writer, because not only did she take a story that I've seen so many times (husband has a stroke, wife discovers secret about husband and has to deal with it, children struggling with their own issues) and make it seem fresh, but she kept me reading (and enjoying) a book populated with characters who were fairly unredeeming. I'll admit the summary of the book on the inside front cover makes it seem like it will be a bi ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Bound Together: The Believers Discussion 37 86 Aug 13, 2016 12:36AM  
  • Spooner
  • Sag Harbor
  • Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
  • All Souls
  • Reading in Bed
  • The Vagrants
  • Boundaries
  • A Short History of Women
  • The Journey Home
  • The Cradle
  • The Night Birds
  • Living to Tell
  • Songs for the Missing
  • Kalooki Nights
  • The Great Man
  • The White Family
  • Pocket Kings
  • The Family Markowitz
Zoe Heller was born in London in 1965 and educated at Oxford University and Columbia University, New York. She is a journalist who, after writing book reviews for various newspapers, became a feature writer for The Independent. She wrote a weekly confessional column for the Sunday Times for four years, but now writes for the Daily Telegraph and earned the title 'Columnist of the Year' in 2002.

More about Zoë Heller...

Share This Book

“Audrey nodded warily. She had never cared for conspiratorial female conversation of this sort. Its assumption of shared preoccupations was usually unfounded in her experience, its intimacies almost always the trapdoor to some subterranean hostility.” 0 likes
“There was a time when she would have lingered to hear what amusing or sinister characteristic the woman attributed to the man's Jewishness - what business acumen or frugality or neurosis or pushiness she assigned to his tribe - and then, when she had let the incriminating words be spoken, she would have gently informed the woman that she was Jewish herself. But she had tired of that party game. Embarrassing the prejudices of your countrymen was never quite as gratifying as you thought it would be, the countrymen somehow never embarrassed enough. It was safer, on the whole, to enjoy your moral victory in silence and leave the bastards guessing.” 0 likes
More quotes…