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The Believers

3.36 of 5 stars 3.36  ·  rating details  ·  3,930 ratings  ·  703 reviews
This is a comic, tragic, supremely entertaining novel about one family's struggles with the consolations of faith and the trials of doubt. When Audrey makes a devastating discovery about her husband, New York radical lawyer Joel Litvinoff, she is forced to re-examine everything she thought she knew about their forty-year marriage. Joel's children will soon have to come to ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 30th 2008 by Penguin (first published January 1st 2008)
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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
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
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
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
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
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
Bonnie Brody
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
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
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
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
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
Wendy Kobylarz-Chouvarda
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
Kasa Cotugno
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
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
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
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
Dec 10, 2008 Jeff rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like Meg Wolitzer and Jennifer Haigh
Heller is, quite simply, a magnificent and intelligent writer. Her new book, "The Believers," is a funny, compelling, and thought-provoking novel about belief and the search for personal truth. Most importantly, it is about what happens when truth reveals itself to you in a way that is contrary to the very principles with which you guide your life. Heller manages to engage the reader with some profound questions about belief, but never at the expense of the story. The Litvinoffs are a deliciousl ...more
Joy H.
Added 12/7/08. Read in May 2015.
This book kept me reading, mostly because of the good writing. There are several sub-plots but it all revolves mainly around one family and their interactions with one another. Because of the sub-plots there's a lot there to keep your attention, including some interesting characters.

See the following GR review by Jeff for more about this book:
December's book club selection for a non-GR group; I'll start this in, what, maybe very late November?
A screwball, domestic family novel. Good writing, good characters but everyone was sort of screwed up. I actually would have liked this one more if it hadn't been written by Zoe Heller, as I was a huge fan of "Notes on a scandal" and felt this book just didn't measure up.
A New York Jewish-atheist-leftist family (my tribe!) but, unlike mine, this family is dysfunctional, hypocritical, thoroughly unlikable and skewered brilliantly and hilariously in this sharply-observed satire.
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sam Quixote
“The Believers”, Zoe Heller’s third novel, starts with the patriarch of the Litvinoff family, Joel, a successful American lefty solicitor, who has a stroke in court and goes into a coma. His wife Audrey is more or less the main character, an Englishwoman who moved to New York with Joel back in the 60s and has stayed ever since. Their children, Rosa, a strongly political woman recently converted to orthodox Judaism, Karla, a timid, overweight woman stuck in an unhappy marriage with a union organi ...more
An unsentimental and compelling family drama about a political lawyer, possibly modeled after William Kunstler, who has a stroke and how his family reacts in various ways, particularly intensely by his distressed and furious wife, Audrey. I have friends who will say "but I didn't like the characters" to which the author replies in an interview in the October 1, 2008 issue of Time Out:
I read a review the other day that said, "Joel is the one charming character in the book, and we're left with t
I became interested in this book when I learned that the author also wrote "Notes on a Scandal" which was made into a really good movie a few years back (Cate Blanchett plays a school teacher who has an affair with her student, and is exposed by her supposed friend, Judy Dench). This book did not disappoint. I was captivated from the first page. The story concerns a NYC family who rallies around their father and mother when the father suffers a stroke which essentially puts him in a coma. The da ...more
Tim Bold
I think I enjoyed this book, but I can't think why. It is well written - the narrative flows easily and the style and language are conversational and carry the story well.
The novel explores the nature of belief - religious, social, moral and political. It systematically takes apart the motivation of the characters' in their beliefs, but fails to take a stand itself.
The main problem is, in common with many 'comic' tales, that the characters are unlikeable to the point of being grotesque. Most of
I was kind of let down by this book...I thought the writing would be a bit more fast paced and sardonic and I thought that the way it ended was a bit too open for me. At its best moments, you realize that it succeeds of telling the story of family from even before conception, the move from England to America, the raising of children and copying with infidelities and your now adult children in all their oddities, religious pilgrimages, and drug addictions. It's a little bit about political activi ...more
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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...

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