Believers – Zoe Heller

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I loved  Notes on a Scandal, so was really looking forward to reading this book. Unfortunately I was very disappointed.

The writing style seemed much more intelligent than Notes on a Scandal, but it quickly started to focus on politics and religion – two topics which I hate reading about.

Joel and Audrey had a keen contempt for all religions, but Judaism, being the only variety of theistic mumbo-jumbo in which they were themselves ancestrally implicated, had always inspired their most vehement scorn.

The central character, Rosa, has to be one of the most annoying characters I have ever read about:

All her moral disappointment had been reserved for others – schoolmates who failed to resist the temptation of South African fruit, college acquaintances who were insufficiently concerned about the fate of the Angolan freedom fighters, bourgeois parents who pretended to socialist virtue. As a teenage, she had often been urged by her father to temper her revolutionary zeal with some sympathy for human frailty, But Rosa had scorned these attempts to modify her wrath.

I’m afraid that I couldn’t tolerate her abusive remarks on top of the politics and religion, so I gave up after about 100 pages. I need to enjoy or be educated by the books I read, and I’m afraid this one just annoyed me too much. If you enjoy books which focus on politics and religion, and can cope with a book whose central character is really irritating, then this book is really well written, and packed with thought provoking sentences. It is just such a shame that the writing made me want to throw the book at the wall every five minutes! Not for me at all!!


Did you love  Notes on a Scandal?

Have you read any other books written by Zoe Heller?

Can you finish a book which you find really annoying?

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  1. Samantha says:

    I have heard mixed reviews about this book – I think it is rather polarising readers.

    I used to slog away and finish books despite the fact that the characters annoyed me or the plot was ridiculously contrived or the writing style was grating but then I read Schopenhauer’s quote:

    “Life is too short to read bad books as such I only read good ones.”

    Or something like that. It gave me licence to stop labouring over bad books. Good on you for not wasting any more time on a book that does not agree with you :-)

  2. Meghan says:

    I’ve never read anything by Zoe Heller. I can finish books that I find annoying though. I’m doing it right now. Usually it’s because I have to review them. I just hate that it takes me so much longer to read them than regular novels. For some reason I really like to finish books; maybe I read quickly enough that it doesn’t matter if I waste a day or two of reading.

  3. Jo says:

    I’ve got notes on a scandal waiting but for some reason it keeps getting pushed further down the pile. Politics I can live without but I studied Englsh and Religious Studies so religion in literature is a goo combimation for me. I don’t actually like the sound of this one though!

  4. Claire says:

    Life and reading time are too short to be irritated by what you read. I read for enjoyment, education, and escapism and how can I experience any if I am irritated? Real life irritates me too much for me to allow literature to do the same. There are a few books I have left unfinished because a character has annoyed me so much. Many years ago I was extremely close to finishing Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence but I was so disgusted by Mrs Morel, Paul’s mother, that I gave up.

  5. Sandy says:

    Hee hee! I just love you. You don’t hold back! I never did read Notes on a Scandal but I saw the movie, which was incredible (albeit disturbing). Doesn’t everyone know that politics and religion are polarizing? The author should have guessed that 50% of the population would hate this book!

  6. Jackie says:

    If you haven’t read Notes on a Scandal yet, then you really should, as it is brilliant.

    I want to make it clear that this book is very well written, it is just the subject matter that makes this book unbearable for me, so if you’re a fan of political/religous debate go for it!

  7. CBJames says:

    I just gave up on a new memoir at page 200 myself. I never say never to any particular category such as religion or politics because there are always exceptions. But I don’t finish books I’m not enjoying anymore. The new memoir could have been told in 200 pages but it went on for almost 400. People need to use editors.

  8. Jenny says:

    I really enjoyed Notes on a Scandal but haven’t read anything else by Zoe Heller. I have a hard time finishing books with irritating protagonists – I keep reading sneery articles about how only crap readers need to “identify” with the protagonist of a novel – but I just can’t be bothered spending loads of time reading about a person I can’t stand.

  9. Beth F says:

    Ok. I couldn’t even get through the second extract. I really doubt I could get through the book.

  10. JoAnn says:

    I was thinking of reading Zoe Heller. If I do, I’ll be sure to start with Notes on a Scandal!

  11. Jackie says:

    Samantha – I used to finish every book I started too. Now I just read enough so I can write a semi-meaningful review.

    Meghan – I hate wasting time reading books I don’t enjoy. I wish I had given up this book earlier, as it was grating with me from just a few pages in. Just think of all the extra great books you could read in a year if you didn’t finish them all. Perhaps you should try leaving one, and see how you feel.

    Jo – you should give Notes on a Scandal a try, as it is really good. This one has more religion than politics, so I would be interested in reading your take on it.

    Claire – I have never read any DH Lawrence, but I’ll bear your comments on Sons and Lovers in mind!

    Sandy – I haven’t seen Notes on a Scandal yet, although I have the DVD here – I really should watch more DVDs!

    CBJames – I hate making my way through as many as 200 pages before giving up. That kind of borderline book is the worst. They tempt you into reading on, but nothing worth reading happens. I much prefer books that are terrible from the start, as you don’t waste so much time that way!

    Jenny – I really need to identify with the character of a book to love it. That doesn’t mean i have to like them, just that I need to know where they are coming from. I think it shows we have a bit of taste!

    Beth – LOL! You make me feel good for making my way through 100 pages – thanks!

  12. Jackie says:

    JoAnn – That sounds like a good idea! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

  13. Steph says:

    Even though you couldn’t finish this one, I think you gave a good rundown (that was fair) of what did and didn’t work for you here. I haven’t read anything by Heller, but your review definitely makes me want to give her a try. Just maybe not this book!

  14. Well…this is satire, right? I mean, if you take it with a grain of salt, it sounds pretty funny. But then again, I like reading about religion, and if you don’t, I can see why you’d hate it.

  15. Oh :( I loved Notes On A Scandal, and was looking forward to reading more books by Zoe Heller. I think I was a little wary of picking this one up because its posters are displayed all over the tube stations, and normally, books with posters in tube stations end up being not-that-great.

    Everything You Know seems to have good reviews, so I might give that a go sometime soon.

  16. Lu says:

    Oh no! I just checked this one out on a whim from the library… looks like it’s going back!

  17. Jackie says:

    Steph – Thanks. I don’t like writng bad things about books, but sometimes the subject just doesn’t appeal. I’m sure you’d like Notes on a Scandal though.

    JT Oldfield – You’re probably right, but I just don’t find this sort of thing very funny. It sounds as though it might be your sort of thing – so why not give it a try?

    uncertainprinciples – I’ve got Everything you Know here. It does look much better than Believers, so I’ll give it a try one day – maybe next year. I have seen a few good books advertised at tube stations, but have to agree they are in the minority.

  18. Jackie says:

    Lu – Give it a try – you’ll know very quickly if you feel the same way as me.

  19. Karen says:

    Sorry to hear this one was a let down for you. I like how you have distinguished what it was you didn’t like about it though (i.e. the subject matter as opposed to the actual writing) – I need to remember to do that more often in my reviews I think. I never finish books if they are annoying me – life’s too short!!

  20. Jackie says:

    Karen – Yes, if anything the writing is better in this one than NOAS, but it was just too annoying for me to cope with!

  21. FleurFisher says:

    You have made me feel so much better about leaving this book on the library shelf – thank you!

  22. Sarah says:

    I was very impressed by Notes on a scandal, but haven’t got to The Believers yet as the subject matter put me off. Will be interested to see if I dislike it as you did!

  23. Kim says:

    It is often difficult to know why a book is annoying, so I think you have done really well to understand that in this case the book is well written but just not your preferred subject matter.
    I struggled for 105 pages with The Everest Hotel by Allan Sealy and couldn’t understand why I was having such a tussle, because there was so much I liked about the book. Then I realised I didn’t like the old man in the story, he was lewd and horrible and I couldn’t summon up anything but contempt for him – I gave up the book at that point because I figured that had I met the old man in real life I wouldn’t have anything to do with him, so why should I bother to spend time with him in a book?
    There are too many good books out there, so why put up with something (or someone) annoying?

  24. Jackie says:

    Jane – Please I could be of service! lol!

    Sarah – I’d love to hear someone else’s thoughts on it. I’m sure it is a really good book. If you do finish it can you let me know what happens in the end?!

    Kim – I always know why books annoy me. It is when they bore me that I often can’t put my finger on why!
    PS Kim – It’s great to see your comments again!

  25. Too bad this one didn’t work for you! I just got Notes on a Scandal from the library on audio and am looking forward to it.

  26. Jackie says:

    Melissa – I’m looking forward to hearing what the audio version is like. I’m sure it will be really good – enjoy!

  27. Kathy says:

    Sorry this didn’t work for you. You’re not the first person I’ve seen who gave up on this book. I don’t think I’ll try it.

  28. Jackie says:

    Kathy – Thanks for letting me know that I’m not alone – it always makes me feel a little bit better about not finishing the book.

  29. Jacqui says:

    Life is too short to read books that you aren’t enjoying (for whatever reason). i finish most books I start and always try to get to page 100 – if it is still not gripping me in nay way I stop.

    I loved Notes on a Scandal but have not tried this one – would not be in a rush to do so as don’t enjoy politics or too much religion in novels very much either

  30. Jackie says:

    Jacqui – Thanks for commenting on my blog for the first time! It is nice to find another person who agrees with me!

  31. Verity says:

    I loved Notes on a Scandal (and even thought it translated quite well to the big screen). So I was excited about The believers, and also very let down when it turned out to be all about politics rather than a gripping love story. I gave her another go with Everything you know, but didn’t really enjoy that either.

  32. Jackie says:

    Verity – I’m sorry to hear that Everything You Know was a disappointment too. I think I’ll still give it a try, as it is such a short book. Lets hope she gets back on form for her next book.

  33. Petunia says:

    I hated everything about this book. All the characters were abrasive jack-a$$es except the one sister who was a timid jack-a$$. I read all of it because I got it from Borders’ ARC program. One thing I did learn though was that it was all supposed to be a metaphor for the radical thinking of the 70s and how it has failed to live up to its own expectations. But this insight was not enough for me to like the book in any way.

    BTW, if you look up the author’s name on Wikipedia you will find a really terrible picture of her. She looks drunk with her shirt half open. If I was her I’d be furious.

  34. Nicole says:

    I loved Notes on A Scandal. I thought it was really smart and funny. Hate this one and couldn’t finish it. I think I could have dealt with the politics and the religion but I just couldn’t stand any of the people one little bit. I have liked murderers in other stories ore than the characters in this book.

  35. Jackie says:

    Petunia – Knowing that it is a metaphor for radical thinking doesn’t make me like it anymore either!

    Nicole – I’m not sure I could have finished it with nicer characters and that amount of religion/politics, but the combination of all three makes this a very difficult book for me to read.


  1. Everything You Know – Zoe Heller – Farm Lane Books Blog

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