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The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens

The Elected Member (1969)

by Bernice Rubens

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An early Booker Prize winner.

Bernice Rubens begins The Elected Member by introducing the reader to the surreal world of Norman Zweck, a tormented man who "sees" creatures swarming around his room, over his bed and his body. We come to understand that his mind is deranged, that he has a substance abuse problem, that he has thrown away a promising legal career, and that his family is clueless as to how to help. His elderly father, Rabbi Zweck, buries himself in optimism, clinging to the forlorn hope that if only he could "find out who he gets them from" he could cut off Norman's supply of pills, and all would soon be well. The unmarried daughter, Bella, who stopped growing into her own self at around age 15, partly because of her brother and his favored status in the household, can do nothing but care for the two men she loves most in the world. When Rabbi Zweck, with extreme reluctance, commits Norman to a mental hospital for treatment, his greatest fear is that Norman will actually "settle in" and get better there, never wanting to come home. Yet home is so much more peaceful without the son's unpredictable presence. As the novel proceeds, we learn details of life with the Zwecks over the past two decades, and the tragedy merely deepens with each new revelation. Dysfunction is a mild word for the way this family has destroyed each other on the pretense of love and loyalty. Despite the essential hopelessness of the story, there is humor in it---the wicked, so-awful-I-have-to-laugh-or-I'll-cry sort, to be sure. One could reduce the novel to stereotypes and cliches--the suffocating Jewish mother, the long-suffering devoted daughter, the pampered over-indulged son, the daughter who married out and has been dead to her parents ever since, the simple good-hearted Rabbi who has spent so much of his life learning that he knows nothing of living-- but it would be quite wrong to do so. Rubens takes us deep enough into the characters to rise above that. I thought, while reading, that I did not like any of them very much, although I found them all quite interesting to know. But then, like one of Norman's male nurses, I found myself nearly overcome by Rabbi Zweck's inevitable, dignified, poignant farewell to his son.
12-6-2017 ( )
  laytonwoman3rd | Dec 6, 2017 |
The writing was quite good, and I was interested in most of the characters. However, there were so many stereotypes presented they deferred greatly from the quality of the book. The ending was also too pat. ( )
  suesbooks | Jul 24, 2017 |
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:
•Iris Murdoch (Bruno’s Dream – on my TBR)
•William Trevor (Mrs Eckdorf in O’Neill’s Hotel -one to find for my TBR)
•A.L. Barker (John Brown’s Body)
•T.W. Wheeler (The Conjuction)
•Elizabeth Bowen ( Eva Trout -which I read and enjoyed some years ago with the Booker Prize Yahoo group).

The Elected Member has been on the TBR for a while, and I read it as part of The Complete Booker Challenge. I have 12 to go (not counting this year’s winner, of course) but I am making steady progress since joining this challenge…

It’s interesting to read ‘dated’ books like this, not yet classics, if they ever will be, but deserving their place in history because of a significant prize. The official website lists the judges (Antonia Fraser, David Holloway, Rebecca West, Ross Higgins and Richard Hoggart) but doesn’t include a judge’s report so I can only guess at the reasons why this book was a winner. I think it may have been because it tackles the emerging issue of drug addiction and links the causes to dysfunctional families – a very relevant topic in the Swinging Sixties and beyond.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2009/07/25/the-elected-member-by-bernice-rubens/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Oct 5, 2016 |
'two sad unmarried daughters...and in another room his broken son', 21 Jun. 2012
sally tarbox

This review is from: The Elected Member (Paperback)
The elected member of this novel is Norman Zweck, the cherished, high-achieving son of a Jewish family in 1960s London. But the book opens with him addicted to amphetamines, his legal career in tatters as he hallucinates.
His experiences in a mental hospital unfold and with them we come to understand how he got to this point; family secrets and a tragedy that scarred him for life.
Both moving and humourous, this is an interesting and unique work. ( )
  starbox | Jul 9, 2016 |
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. ( )
  bodachliath | Apr 22, 2015 |
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If patients are disturbed, their families are often very disturbing.

R.D. LAING - The Politics of Experience

for Rudi
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Norman Zweck dared not open his eyes. He turned over on his stomach, raised his knee high, stiffening straight the other leg.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0349130221, Paperback)

In this 1970 Booker Prize-winning novel, Norman is the clever one of a closely-knit Jewish family in London's East End. Infant prodigy, brilliant barrister, the apple of his parents' eyes—until at 41 he becomes a drug addict, confined to his bedroom, at the mercy of his hallucinations and paranoia.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:00 -0400)

Norman is the clever one of a close-knit Jewish family, the apple of his parents' eyes until at 41 becomes a drug addict. For Norman's father, his son's deterioration is a bitter reminder of his own guilt and failure.

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