Eliyahu’s Mistress: a book review by Geoffrey Zygier

May 29, 2018 by Geoffrey Zygier
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Melbourne lawyer Roger Mendelson has chosen a demanding subject for his debut novel ‘Eliyahu’s Mistress’.

Roger Mendelson with his award and the book

On its face, a tale of romance often is a straightforward matter. Two people are strongly attracted to one another. Their relationship develops and despite some minor teething pains, by tale’s end, cartoon lovebirds encircle our lovers.

Well, maybe. As philosopher and author Alain de Botton has written “We expect love to be one of our greatest joys. But, in practice, it is one of the most reliable routes to misery.” Why? Because things generally are never as they seem or how we want them to be.

In this particular instance complications abound. Our lovers are mature people with distinct settled personal and professional lives. One in fact is in a happy marriage, which has produced two children, a situation the lovers believe they can work around. Their work is demanding and consumes considerable time while providing considerable personal satisfaction. Simultaneously, however, their professional lives, the cause of their meeting, also provide potential for conflict. Then there is the question of their respective religious faiths and how they fit into this increasingly entangled scenario. There’s even a cute dog with an identity problem. And finally there is one protagonist’s sexual awakening, which provides abundant pleasure to both parties. Whew! That’s a lot of stuff to be worked through, by the lovers themselves and a neophyte author. And much more remains to be done by the conclusion.

I commend Mendelson for finding the time for this work while running a sizable law practise. I praise him even more for writing a work in a genre generally dominated by female writers (and readers) and seeking to resolve real issues therein. However I question whether Mendelson brings these threads together.

A number of abrasive features spoilt ‘Eliyahu’s Mistress’ for me. First and foremost, I found its overall pace too slow and uneven and this reflects on the parties. Despite much background information provided about the main characters and numerous pages spent on their discussions, the lovers do not come across as flesh and blood people. I suspect that is partially due to inadequate editing which could have provided much-needed energy in fewer words. I particularly found much of the dialogue unnecessary, exceptionally laboured and often unreal and longed for subtler ways in which I could have learned more about the characters. (It’s true that numerous soft-core sex scenes pop up in the book and while these often work in building a picture of the couple, they sometimes appear to be an easy way to simply conclude a scene that might peter away).

In summary, I think that ‘Eliyahu’s Mistress’ is not a satisfying read in its present state. While it includes issues worthy of consideration, perhaps a new draft by the author and some sharp editing might provide a more satisfactory conclusion. Nonetheless readers should be aware that ‘Eliyahu’s Mistress’ recently took out the Independent Publisher Book Award for Australia/New Zealand – Best Regional Fiction.So clearly someone out there considers it worthy of a read. It just doesn’t happen to be me.

Eliyahu’s Mistress, published by Sid Harta, won the Bronze Award for Best Regional Fiction from Australia/New Zealand.


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