Love Burns by Edna Mazya (Europa Editions, S14.95) is simultaneously engaging and disappointing. Mazya, a professor of dramatic writing at Tel Aviv University, is one of Israel’s most lauded and popular playwrights. In this debut novel, she writes each chapter as one large paragraph, a narrative style which makes it difficult to put the book down. These long chunks of prose suit the flow of the story well, as they capture the stream-of-consciousness of the main character: Ilan, a middle-aged astrophysics professor at the Technion, Israel’s MIT. Ilan is a mama’s boy who, even at the age of 48, is incapable of making his own decisions and dealing with his own problems. Rather, he tends to react to situations (such as his wife’s affair with a charismatic photographer) in a somewhat impulsive fashion and then run to his mother for help.
llan’s mother is one of several female voices that dominate this novel, despite its male narrator. She is portrayed as a caricature of the overbearing Jewish mother, although on the whole, Judaism does not play a particularly significant role in the book. The rest of the cast seem similarly cliched: the ambitious and annoying colleague, the childhood friend whose conversations consist mainly of silence, and the young wife whom everyone had warned Ilan not to marry.
This novel, a European bestseller, is the story of a love affair, a murder, and a subsequent cover-up. Secrets which ever)’one seems to know (yet refuse to acknowledge to one another) lie barely beneath the surface. When Ilan discovers his wife’s affair, he does not confront her, choosing instead to go along with her lie. She, in turn, fails to completely conceal her suspicion that her husband is responsible for her lover’s murder. The combination of two-dimensional characters and conventional actions makes for an almost farcical and predictable plot. In spite of this, once begun, Love Burns compels us to keep reading. For better or for worse, we stay with this mama’s boy until the end.
Suzanne Brody has a Ph.D. in neuroscience and has begun her rabbinical training. She is the author of an as-yet-unpublished collection of poems on the weekly Torah portions.