(Reviewed by Guy Savage NOV 16, 2006)
I took half a yellow Valium, and after a moment I swallowed the other half, and by half past six the Valium dissolved in my blood and spread an alert calm through my body. At least now I could think rationally, but what was there to think about? Horrific pictures swarmed into my head. Naomi squashed flat on the road somewhere—maybe it was time to call the police—and I phoned my mother again and told her that I couldn’t pull myself together. This time my mother didn’t scold me, she only said that I should try to be logical, how could Naomi know that I’d come home early.
Love Burns, the subtle, witty first novel from Israeli playwright, Edna Mazya is narrated by Ilan Ben Nathan, a middle-aged neurotic astrophysics professor who lives in Haifa. Ilan is married to Naomi, and the fact that she’s beautiful and young enough to be his daughter just adds to his paranoia. He claims his various anxieties — which he attempts to temper with Valium — stem from the date of their marriage. He can no longer focus on his work and instead obsesses about losing Naomi.
When the novel begins, Ilan returns home unexpectedly from work—only to find Naomi gone, and he begins to panic. Within the first few pages, the author humorously captures Ilan’s neurotic personality, his tortured anxiety at the thought he might lose Naomi one day, and his obsessive, suffocating love. Ilan deludes himself that he “managed the relationship … with careful and calculating maturity, guarding against the moment when the halo of important professor would fade to reveal an aging semi-intellectual with a tendency to morbid introspection.” Ilan—who’s so perfectly crafted that he could be an escapee from a Woody Allen comedy--spends the evening in a state of hysteria-- repeatedly telephoning his unsympathetic mother while waiting for Naomi to return.
Although Naomi returns home later that evening, her unexplained absence sparks Ilan’s suspicions, and he begins to realize there are “entire areas of her personality” unexplored. He engages in a little amateur detective work, and discovers that Naomi is embroiled in a steamy affair with a brawny, blond, Nick Nolte look-a-like. Ilan decides to monitor the affair rather than immediately confront Naomi about her unconventional lover. While Ilan makes the reasoned, unemotional decision to ignore the affair and share his wife, unfortunately, his obsessive-compulsive personality can’t cope, and soon he’s following Naomi, monitoring her underwear, donning ridiculous disguises, and spying on his adulterous wife with a telescope.Just how a neurotic person copes with the discovery that his very worst fears are realized is the substance of this marvelously entertaining novel. Author Edna Mazya explores the actions of her characters with humour, insight and a wonderful degree of well-placed tenderness towards her troubled protagonist. One of the funniest—and most touching-- aspects of the novel is the peculiar relationship between Ilan and his idiosyncratic mother—a cantankerous Jewish woman who longed to join the Hitler Youth as a girl. She treats her son with mordant humour and a “faint mockery which always succeeds in getting to his most exposed places.” Since the story is told by Ilan, the novel mirrors his erratic thoughts, so portions are written in run-on sentences, but while William Faulkner-style run-on sentences put me off a book, Mazya’s style reflected—and therefore complemented--Ilan’s thoughts. Quite frankly, this is one of the best new fiction books I’ve read this year.
- Amazon readers rating: from 2 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Love Burns at publisher's website (in .pdf)
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Love Burns (March 2006 in US; originaly published as An X-Ray Burst 1997)
- The Unsatisfied (2005)
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About the Author:
Edna Mazya was born in Tel Aviv in 1949. She studied theater and philosophy, and received her MA from Tel Aviv University where she now teaches dramatic writing.
A leading playwright and scriptwriter in Israel, several of her plays have also been produced abroad. Mazya has been awarded the Margalit Prize for her play Family Story (1997) and Playwright of the Year for The Rebels (1998). In 2004, a film based on her script received the Israel Academy`s Best TV Film Award.
She lives in Tel Aviv.