It occurred to me while I was reading this book that I have been trying (and failing) to read the whole Booker Prize long list for a really long time now. The first time I attempted it was back in 2004, and I think the reason I have never succeeded in reading the full Booker’s Dozen of 13 books is that some of them I found to be incredibly boring. For every absolute gem (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, I’ll Go To Bed At Noon, The Emperor’s Children, Mother’s Milk) there have been some absolute stinkers. Some have gone on to be winners (The Inheritance Of Loss bored me too much to read past 50 pages). So it’s a crapshoot is what I’m saying. The 2013 list has so far been mostly brought to you by the letters M, E and H. Alas, Chani’s titular nuptials don’t do much to alter that.
In the opening chapter, we meet Chani as she’s about to marry Baruch. She’s only nineteen, and as an Orthodox Jew, she has not touched Baruch and only had a handful of dates with him. After that chapter, we then flash back to how their courtship came about, as well as subplots (if you can call them that) with Baruch’s family as well as the wife of the rabbi who will be overseeing what the title of the book spells out. There’s a lot of detail on how difficult it is to observe the Orthodox faith in modern society and the initial setup of the Rebbetzin’s storyline is unflinching, to say the least. But as it all plods along, I couldn’t help get the feeling that this could have been a much shorter book.
There are chapters which go back to the 1980’s, to cover the early courtship of the rabbi and his wife. It’s not every interesting and it’s entirely superfluous. A far more key plot point to their early life is shoehorned in much later, which explains an awful lot and might have had more resonance if placed earlier in the novel. It feels quite drawn out and the jacket copy states as a final line “not to mention what happens on the wedding night”. We don’t get to that until the penultimate chapter, some 300 pages after we first read about the wedding itself. And when you get there, you know what? Not that interesting. The whole novel is obviously well researched and as a slice of modern Jewish life, to anyone who has no idea of that religion or culture, there will be a certain level of curiosity. But for me, that didn’t extend to the actual machinations of Chani Kaufman getting married.