Three by D. A. Mishani (Trans: Jessica Cohen, Riverrun, £14.99)
This is a good time for Israeli thrillers. Recently, we have had Dov Alfon’s hi-tech A Long Night in Paris, and a historical thriller set in the Russian Pale, The Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits. Now we have best-selling author D. A. Mishani’s Three, set in contemporary Tel Aviv.
Mishani is the author of the acclaimed detective Avraham Avraham series, first published in Hebrew in 2011, and since then translated into more than 15 languages, and adapted for TV.
Mishani, who lives in Tel Aviv, has had considerable success in Europe with glowing reviews in Le Monde and Die Zeit. Three could be his breakthrough novel in English. It is translated by Jessica Cohen, who has translated Amos Oz and David Grossman among other writers, and, with Grossman, won the Man Booker International prize for her translation of his A Horse Walks Into a Bar.
Orna Azran is a single mother, divorced, in her late 30s, living with her young son Eran. He is troubled by the break-up of his parents’ marriage and sees a therapist. His father has not merely left, he’s gone off to Katmandu, where he has started a new relationship and a new life. Orna, takes the plunge and starts online dating. She meets Gil, a divorced lawyer in his early 40s, with two teenage daughters. He seems patient, easy-going, just what she needs.
Two other women feature in the novel. Emilia, a carer in her early 40s, who has come to Israel from Riga to find a new life; and Ella, married, writing a PhD on the Lodz ghetto. What do these three women have in common and what draws them all to Gil?
Three is a dark thriller, which picks up pace as it goes along. The lives of the characters seem somewhat humdrum at first, but the plot twists and turns in the second half, moving towards a fascinating climax. The mood grows more tense. Suddenly, words like “fear” and “fury” come into the narrative, prompting us to wonder if everything is as straightforward as it seems. What does Gil really do for a living? Why does he travel so much in East Europe? And why does he disappear?
There is a melancholy feel to the book. The characters seem desperately lonely, cut adrift. They meet for dates in cafés, have casual sex in small hotels, text banal messages, deal with the realities of broken marriages and unhappy children — and wonder if a date might lead to their murder.
But they do belong in what may be described as Israel’s “new normal”. There are no Palestinians, no politics, no references to Israeli history. Mishani’s writing stands so far apart from the likes of A B Yehoshua or David Grossman, it is as if he is writing about a different country.
David Herman is a senior JC reviewer