The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is Eve Harris's debut novel, set in the Charedi Jewish community of North London. Harris's sympathy for her characters is clear and compelling, but their voices are all very similar, which means that we never fully engage with any of them. The novel shifts perspective and time periods, and sometimes these shifts are clunky and disrupt the narrative flow. The structure of the novel intertwines the story-lines of three separate relationships: the central one between Chani and Baruch, that between Rabbi Chaim Zilberman and his wife Rivka, and the brief and thwarted relationship between their son Avromi and his fellow law-student Shola. Of these the most interesting relationship is that between Chaim and Rivka. This relationship is the one which most powerfully ignites our sympathy and interest, so it is a shame that this storyline was not given more presence and moment in the novel. It is here that we see most fully how life in a religious community informs the life of the individual.
Underpinning all the relationships is the question of how far faith can sustain us or restrict us in the ways in which we explore what it means to love. Harris is disappointingly one-sided in her examination of this, which makes the novel seem slighter than it need have been. The themes of the novel could be thrillingly pertinent in a society which is struggling to define the role of religion, but the treatment of the themes was too often frustratingly facile.
I was surprised to find this long-listed for the Booker. I shall be even more surprised if it makes it to the shortlist.