‘Several kisses, each a suction-pad of love, were plonked over my face. Thrusting me back to arm’s length again she scrutinized me, staring into my very soul. How she loved us! Her eyes brimmed with tears, as if such love was too much to ask a human being to bear . . .’
It is a Saturday afternoon in the 1950s, and Harold Carlton (lightly disguised as Howard Conway) is being given a characteristic welcome by his grandmother at the door of her mansion flat just off London’s Edgware Road. Like everything about Grandma – her food, her décor, her make-up, her fears, her joys, her sorrows – it’s excessive, overwhelming. She is the monstrous yet entirely believable figure who dominates this darkly comic story of a Jewish family’s rise and fall, as seen through the eyes of a teenage boy who has something of Adrian Mole about him – for Howard has discovered Freud.
You don’t have to be Jewish to recognize the characters in this dysfunctional family – Howard’s dyspeptic and dominating father, grimly running his father-in-law’s handbag factory; his delightful but dissatisfied mother, trapped (initially anyway) in an unsatisfactory marriage; Howard’s brother and sister, who provide a kind of background chorus; lovable, easy-going Grandad, with his surprise secret life; and Grandma herself, the arch manipulator and expert in emotional blackmail, determined to foil her youngest son’s plans to marry a shiksa – a non-Jewish girl – by shipping him off to join his brother in New York.
When the two brothers return full of New World entrepreneurial spirit it all rebounds, of course, in an awful yet irresistibly hilarious way. Though light-heartedly written, Marrying Out is a brilliantly observed study of family dynamics, and of a certain kind of Jewish life in 1950s North London.
‘I loved this book so much that I will be pressing it into the hands of family and friends for a long time to come. ’ Amanda Craig, Jewish Chronicle
‘Sunday Times Culture Magazine 2001’ 100 Best Books of the Year
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