“The Elected Member” by Bernice Rubens – Booker Prize-Winner 1970

A Dark Study In The Confines Of A Dysfunctional Jewish Family

I have said previously that Booker winners usually give insights into other cultures and/or countries and The Elected Member is no exception. The difference here is that the focus is very much on a single, close-knit immigrant, Jewish family.

Norman, the central character, has been regarded all his life as the family genius, doted on by other family members. But despite initially appearing to fulfil his potential he loses his way to drug addiction and mental health issues. As the story progresses we get hints of the underlying causes of Norman’s Problems with allusions to inappropriate relationships, which keep us enthralled throughout.

The author gives us a strong sense of a suffocating existence and there is a certain claustrophobic feeling created, partly by Norman’s enforced confinement and partly by the confines of the family orthodoxy.

If his forced confinement to his bedroom is slightly Kafkaesque Norman’s forced incarceration in a mental hospital is shocking – even upsetting. Although he makes a friend there his isolation and inability to deal with his own mental condition are distressing. Rather than his condition improving Norman is going downhill.

Meanwhile, gradual revelations about the nature of past relationships hint at possible causes of the turmoil in the family, and not only in Norman. 

Dark secrets lurk and help draw the reader through a disturbing story, laced with scenes simultaneously comic and grotesque.

The Elected Member is a compelling read and is skilfully written. It is not a joyous or uplifting tale but it is captivating and readily evokes compassion.

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