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Fervour by Toby Lloyd

15/04/2024
Fervour by Toby Lloyd

Toby Lloyd’s Fervour takes readers into the heart of some of the deep conundrums of modern Jewish life. He does this through a singular English family full of outsized characters who do not entirely get along but are bonded together by faith, love and tradition.

Fervour starts and revolves around the character of Tovyah. Tovyah is the second of three Rosenthal children – his older brother Gideon has left to live in Israel and his younger sister Elsie, who disappeared for a few days in her teens, is suffering from mental illness. The three grew up in a household where their holocaust-survivor grandfather lived in the attic. As their grandfather was dying their mother Hannah recorded his story which she then turned in a controversial book after his death. Some of Fervour is narrated by outsider Kate, who tries to befriend the prickly, outsider Tovyah when they start at Oxford. Kate’s father was Jewish and she is drawn into Tovyah’s world and his family she starts to investigate her own faith.

Fervour draws a necessarily complex view of modern Judaism. Hannah and Eric met through an arranged marriage but despite their deep faith are more interested in the intellectual and have put their children through a secular education. Gideon has gone to Israel not out of a deep belief but partly to get away from his parents and be able to express himself. Tovyah has lost his faith and makes little actions of rebellion but still goes through many of the motions or ritual and tradition. And Elsie, in the depths of her mental illness, seems to be in touch with a strain of Jewish mysticism to the point where her mother believes that she is possessed. While Kate finds her entry into the religion through a more permissive liberal ideology.

Fervour walks a tightrope of trying to see all sides of some knotty, long standing intractable issues. Tovyah’s grandfather was a holocaust survivor but also possible only survived by collaborating. Elsie may have a mental illness but she also seems to know things that she could not possibly know. Hannah is using her writing to come to terms with all of these things but also seems to be a shameless self promoter. All of which makes this a tough read. Most of the characters, in particular Tovyah, are spiky and unlikeable (even when readers understand the cause of their unlikeability). The issues are laid out in combative dialogue that does not (because it cannot) resolve but rather just lay out the philosophical differences of the combatants. All of which makes Fervour interesting but not always engaging even when it is building up to a tense family gathering in its final act.

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Fervour by Toby Lloyd

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Fervour by Toby Lloyd

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