Christians, Jews, love and lust

By Julia Pascal, April 16, 2009
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Michael Arditti has always been fascinated by religion. His father’s family were Sephardim who settled in the UK. He was brought up as an Anglican. His own faith has provided rich source material. The tension between organised religion and individual dissent fuelled his most celebrated novel, Easter. In his latest, The Enemy of the Good (Arcadia, £11.99), he widens his vision by exploring an uneasy relationship between Christians and Jews.

The story unfolds over a three-year period and challenges taboos which fracture both communities. It is centred on the Granvilles, a liberal English family in which the mother is a Warsaw Ghetto survivor and the father a retired bishop. Their children are Clement, a gay Christian artist, and his sister Susannah. Big issues abound: sex, love, asylum, HIV, euthanasia, child abuse, homophobia and disability — all subtly and tenderly interwoven.

Arditti is particularly skilful at conveying the attraction of mysticism. There is a compelling description of the Christian Susannah’s journey into the world of kabbalah, poignantly blending the erotic and the esoteric. Most satisfying is the way Anglican philosophy is intertwined with various strands of Jewish thinking, from scepticism to messianism.

Another strong theme is that of forbidden love. Two of the most striking examples are Clement’s attraction to Rafik, a Muslim asylum-seeker who poses as his model for Jesus, and Susannah’s desire for hunky Zvi, a kibbutznik-turned Chasid.

By depicting minority parallel societies and showing the links between worlds which appear on the surface to be so alienated from one another, Arditti breaks new ground in the English novel. He also reveals how life on this island is enriched by the complex make-up of its Jews.

    Last updated: 5:02pm, May 7 2009