Sunday, 4 March 2012

Book #21 The Assistant by Bernard Malamud

The Assistant

Not to be confused with the Robert Walser novel of the same name, it appears you can only buy this novel second hand on Amazon UK now which is a great shame, it is possibly out of print, at least in this country, I bought mine second hand and it's a really good quality edition.

I had been urged to read The Assistant by a number of people a couple of years ago. Books often take time to arrive at their turn, and so it came to pass that I gave The Assistant a go.

In The Assistant, a lowly shopkeeper, Morris Bober ekes by a small living in a run down delicatessen with his wife and daughter, verging on penniless, their existence is a narrow one. Morris and his wife rarely leave their shop and living quarters, and because of their poor finances their daughter can only attend night school not college proper. Helen Bober too, has begun to narrow her own existence, embarrassed by her poverty she cuts off contact with friends and shuts down a relationship with a wealthier man.

Into the midst of this comes a sudden attack, the Bober's have apparently been targeted for a robbery the fundamental cause being anti-semitic in nature.  The robbers take what they can, but Bober has little to give anyway. After becoming injured during the robbery Bober is forced to take on an Assistant, and after discovering Frank Alpine sleeping in his cellar, hires him in exchange for lodgings.

But is Frank Alpine all he seems to be??

The Assistant is very well written, and so is enjoyable from that angle, but it has a dour nature and a grimness that in the end doesn't strike the uplifting note that I was led to believe it would at least not for me personally. Frank Alpine is difficult to identify with considering his behaviour and I couldn't warm to him. Helen's existence but lack of life and youth depressed me, old before her time. That said its character portraits are very sound, detailed, rich. But would somebody really behave as Frank does?? I'm not sure.

The nature and reasoning behind anti-semitism has always confused me and continues to do so in this novel, to hate someone merely for being a Jew alone, seems not merely racism or prejudice but entirely lacking in logic. It makes me sad.

All in all, it is a good book, but I will probably pass it on and not read it a second time 7/10     

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