We continue an online series of former Best of Young British Novelists introducing writers from the fourth edition, with Rachel Seiffert (1983) on Naomi Alderman.

 
Now here’s someone who can do funny. Properly, skillfully. So not only does she have me laughing as I read, but also scrolling back again after I’ve finished on an how exactly did she do that? quest through the pages.

Ms Alderman’s is a penetrating gaze, directed at Hendon’s orthodox and deeply suburban, small-c-conservative Jewish community, but her’s a warm way of looking too. Incisive in her choice of detail – the just-paid-off Renault Espace, the ‘not to boast’ turn of phrase – she nails her characters quickly, but at some point – where was it? I’ve looked and looked! – she got me fond of her characters. It is a subtle satire which allows for self-knowledge in its protagonists.

Ms Alderman employs a useful literary device: the stranger who reveals a community to itself. But what a stranger! A biblical prophet, no less; no half measures. And again, within that boldness, there is both precision and nuance. Elijah, for all his ability to command Yahweh’s fire from heaven, is replete with human failings, and so in his turn also elicits my human fellow-feeling; not unlike that difficult uncle, for whom you retain a soft spot, even while he embarrasses you rigid in public.

So, to summarise: witty, bold, and delicate too. Oh yes, and supremely able to turn a story. Mazel tov, Ms Alderman; I take my hat off.

 

Photograph by Nadav Kander

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