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The Elected Member

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,171 ratings  ·  124 reviews
Norman is the clever one of a close-knit Jewish family in the East End of London. Infant prodigy; brilliant barrister; the apple of his parents' eyes... until at forty-one he becomes a drug addict, confined to his bedroom, at the mercy of his hallucinations and paranoia.

For Norman, his committal to a mental hospital represents the ultimate act of betrayal. For Rbbi Zweck,
Paperback, 240 pages
Published July 1st 1991 by Abacus (first published 1969)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,171 ratings  ·  124 reviews

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Jan 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Another of my sporadic attempts to read as many historic Booker Prize winners as possible - this was the second one, and is an entertaining, sympathetic but rather dark study of a close-knit Jewish family struggling with a son's mental health issues and the conflicts between religious traditions and the modern world. ...more
Sep 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
This Booker Prize winning novel about a close-knit but dysfunctional Jewish family is set in the East End of London in the 1960s. Norman Zweck, the golden son of a rabbi and his late wife, whose promising career as a barrister has been derailed by drug use and mental illness brought on by his mother's incessant demands and his personal failings, is slowly becoming unhinged — again. He spends his days in his parents' old bedroom, locked away from his father and younger sister, popping amphetamine ...more
Feb 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
As a child, Norman Zweck was a prodigy. He was fluent in twelve languages at which point he decided that was enough. His mother liked to show him off by having him speak in the various languages to her friends and acquaintances. Ultimately Norman decides to pursue the law as a profession and becomes a very successful barrister. When we meet him in the first few pages of this novel we learn that his career as a barrister is in ruins and he is experiencing drug-induced hallucinations. One sister, ...more
Oct 08, 2014 rated it liked it
Some things I'm always out on. Brothers and sisters hooking up is one of them. Probably a decent read, but no thanks. ...more
Ade Bailey
Mar 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully crafted novel.

For those who love the writings and work of R.D. Laing who was a big influence on the author, this is a must read. The tragicomic exposing of the dynamics of family dystopia, the 'patient' elected to be the carrier of all ills, and the craziness of some aspects of the psychiatric system.

Dec 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most sensitive, insightful, beautifully written novel of family pain I have read in a long time. Norm is a 40 year-old barrister, in the throes of a drug induced psychosis. As the oldest son of an immigrant family of Orthodox Jews, a child prodigy, he carried the weight of the family’s ambition and burdens. This is a tightly knit family whose love is born from equal parts selfish need and selfless concern, wraps so tightly around each child that it tragically stunts them. Rube ...more
Courtney H.
Feb 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: bookers
The Elected Member was one of the first Bookers I read (the second book to win the prize, but I read a bit out of order in the beginning), and it was interesting to turn to it after some of the others. This is an almost entirely localized story. It hints at a larger history of immigration into England, but that really just serves to flesh out the history of the main cast. It follows a brief period of time in the life of Norman, the golden child of his Jewish immigrant family in England whose pro ...more
Kilian Metcalf
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is the second book in my personal determination to read the Booker Prize winners in order.

Somebody has to carry the burdens of a family, right? In this novel, the person elected to that office is the brilliant son of the family, Norman Zweck. The weight of it combined with his addiction to amphetamines drives him mad. Haunted by guilt and the hallucinations of floods of silverfish surrounding him, he cracks under the weight and spends the bulk of the book in an insane asylum. Fortunately,
Dec 09, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A haunting story about secrets, expectations, betrayal, family, loneliness, and madness. Beautifully, believably crafted.
Alex Rendall
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, booker-prize
Norman Zweck sees silverfish everywhere he goes. This would be pretty alarming for anyone (on the odd occasion I see one of those creatures they make my skin crawl) but for Norman, a previously successful barrister and “the clever one” in his family, this has the effect of literally driving him mad.

The silverfish are a side-effect of Norman’s addiction to amphetamines, which have destroyed his career and are now destroying his mind. His father, the elderly Rabbi Zweck, and his sister Bella, deci
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
This 1970 Booker Prize winner is a strange little novel, maybe you have to be Jewish to really engage with it. It tells the story of an immigrant Rabbi who comes to the East End of London, marries his first love and produces a dysfunctional family unit, in which all of its members are restricted and ultimately retarded by the rituals and expectations of Judaism. Norman, the "elected member"of the title is a child prodigy who speaks many languages and becomes a lawyer but is addicted to amphetami ...more
Uthpala Dassanayake
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
The Elected Member is a short and powerful novel. The reader is taken through the depressing and exasperating experience of a Drug addict and his close family members. For an outsider, the behavior of the drug addict and his family may appear as ridiculous, but the author has presented the situation so masterfully, that the reader feels how normal their behavior is once you are in their shoes. Revealing the past incidents which contributed to the situation from time to time, the whole story is n ...more
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, booker
Perhaps one of the most beautifully written, thematically profound novels I've ever read.

It addresses so much, from insanity to faith to family pain and betrayal. The language is majestic, with phrases like "they were clad in black and bureaucracy," and "she [a Jewish person] called her ring pogrom money, because it was portable currency." There are even hints of so much more, from a possible gay love story, to the ever-present--yet never referenced--effects of the Holocaust on this Jewish fami
Jenny (Reading Envy)
This was an interesting story about a man struggling with mental issues and his family, a Jewish family not quite integrated into American culture. The father speaks with a Yoda-like speech pattern and feels guilty about everything, and there are a lot of conflicts between tradition and trying to make people happy.

Next time I see a silverfish, I might start to worry.
Dec 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Unbelievable. This book is amazing on so many levels. The plot follows the demise of the Zweck family, an orthodox Jewish family living in London. Rubens does a fantastic job at painting a rich character sketch of each flawed, but lovable, member of the family. A must read.
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A story about mental health and a dysfunctional Jewish family. Norman the apple of his father’s eye was a child prodigy and genius. However, Sarah his mother kept the apron strings tight with guilt and Norman to fearful and guilt ridden to leave home. His sisters, Bella forever in white socks and Esther the spoilt pretty younger sister estranged from the family.

Norman after the death of his friend David develops a drug habit with hallucinations of silverfish everywhere. His family have him comm
Jan 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The Elected Member was purchased by me after reading another review on goodreads. I had never heard of the author or the book before. It won the Booker Prize in 1970. I could not find it on amazon so brought the paperback version.

It is one of the best books books I have read this year. It is sad, tragic, and often hilarious Jewish family story set in London in the late 1960s. Norman the son is going mad and it's his family reactions and recollections where the story came alive. What Norman think
Mar 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: britain, c20th, booker
The Elected Member was the second winner of the 1970 Booker Prize, after Something to Answer For by P.H.Newby in 1969. Bernice Rubens (1928-2004) was born in Wales and began writing in her middle thirties when the kids went to school. She was shortlisted again in 1978 for A Five Year Sentence, and her winning book was shortlisted with some august company...

To read the rest of my review visit

Brendon Oliver-Ewen
Sep 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book made me sad. And I’m glad I read it.

Having picked this up as the second of my Booker Prize winners, I was reeling from my disappointment with the first winner, and over the first couple chapters just enjoyed the clear writing, linear story, and understandable characters. However, as the story wove on, my enjoyment developed into investment. The simplicity of the prose became a tool to unveil a significant amount of insight, filling me with me empathy almost unconsciously.

The story tell
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker-winners
This is a depressing story of a pretty messed up family, but the writing is so good that it is easy to read past what is actually happening and enjoy crawling through the wreckage.
Norman Zweck is messed up. He was a brilliant lawyer but now he is locked up in the family home where he sees silverfish everywhere. The book starts as his father and sister decide he needs to be committed. And so we get to know the family, including the other, estranged sister and the dead mother.
You will end up being
Jun 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker-prizes

Formerly high-flying lawyer, Norman Zweck, now hides in his bedroom hallucinating silverfish, while his father and sister worry about him.
I think it was an inspired decision by the author to make Norman's mental breakdown / illness the result of amphetamine addiction. Although we have sympathy for Norman as he experiences the horrors his mind produces, we have even more sympathy for his family who have to deal with the effects (although not for the dead mother, who does not seem to have bee
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Beth (bibliobeth)
I can see why this was a booker prize winner I really enjoyed it! So strange with the hallucinations of silverfish, and very sad towards the end.
Orla Hegarty
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: booker-winner
A very well written tale of a dysfunctional family written long before such tales became fashionable.
Aug 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book is a revelation. Heart warming.
A must read.
Dec 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
A sexually-repressed intellectual manipulates his family and friends, with dire consequences. He lays the blame for all his woes on others: his Jewish mother was too overbearing; his Rabbi father, too fond; his then-teenage sister, too willing. Yet he considers himself the victim, the family's scapegoat or "elected member". In his self-pity, he is driven to addiction and insanity, which manifests itself in hallucinations of insects, breaking his father's heart. Ultimately, he finds both his come ...more
A very well written, sad, sympathetic, character based novel about a Jewish family coping with the son’s mental health issues due to amphetamine addiction. The son, Norman Zweck, now 40 years old, had been a successful lawyer, however a tragic event lead him to taking amphetamines. During the first half of the book the characters are all well developed and it is during the later parts of the book that the details of the tragic event unfold. Norman’s father is Rabbi Zweck. Norman has two sisters, ...more
Chris Mantei
Oct 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A shorter book but definitely worthwhile. Focusing on the lives of a first-generation Jewish family and how their extreme drive to succeed early on negatively impacts the children’s lives. This materializes in the form of drug abuse, parental dependency, and unhealthy relationships. A different, but powerful take on the push to succeed in a new land, and the potential trauma and grief that might result from this experience which millions of families have gone through. Well worthy of the Booker a ...more
Danita L
What a beautifully written book with a tragi-comic perspective about a Jewish family whose son, Norman, has been committed to a mental hospital after repeated bouts with drug abuse. The Elected Member is an eloquent novel of familial dysfunction and one well-deserved of the Booker prize.
Dec 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2011
Really enjoyed this book. A quick read, and the troubles of Norman and his family are told in a really eloquent way. Looking forward to discussing it in book club!

Updated: Book Club Discussion

Publisher's description: "Norman is the clever one of a close-knit Jewish family in the East End of London. Infant prodigy; brilliant barrister; the apple of his parent’s eyes … until at forty-one he becomes a drug addict, confined to his bedroom, at the mercy of his hallucinations and paranoia. For Norman,
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Bernice Rubens was born in Cardiff, Wales in July 1928. She began writing at the age of 35, when her children started nursery school. Her second novel, Madame Sousatzka (1962), was filmed by John Schlesinger filmed with Shirley MacLaine in the leading role in 1988. Her fourth novel, The Elected Member, won the 1970 Booker prize. She was shortlisted for the same prize again in 1978 for A Five Year ...more

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Secrets between siblings, grandparents with grievances, parents with problems. If you're looking for serious drama, check out these new...
12 likes · 2 comments
“Something had to happen between them. Two people cannot play a conspiracy for so long, and play it each on his own. There came a moment, when, in the dross of lies, the truth, known to them both, had to be asserted, and for their own sanity, shared.” 2 likes
“He wondered whether in fact, he had always been an outsider in the family, and whether he had so placed himself, or whether his parents and sisters had so elected him.” 2 likes
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