Granta-123Naomi Alderman’s “Soon and in Our Days” is the fourth story in Granta 123: Best of Young British Novelists 4. For an overview of the issue and links to my reviews of its other stories, please click here.

This is the first piece so far that is a stand-alone story rather than an excerpt from a forthcoming novel (though Alderman is working on another novel), and it was a hoot, a satire of both old and new approaches to religious zeal, or the lack thereof.

When it begins, it’s the first night of Passover and the Rosenbaum family is celebrating. The kids are bored, having lost the magic with age, when Mrs. Rosenbaum opens the door for the Prophet Elijah’s return. While her husband recites the traditional supplication that Elijah return to usher in the Messiah — “‘Pour out thy rage upon them,’ read Mr. Rosenbaum, with passion and gusto” — and, in a flaming chariot, Elijah actually does come down and park next to their Renault Espace. He didn’t return in his official capacity, mind you.

No. I didn’t mean to get your hopes up. I just thought, you know, for a change it might be nice to come down. For Passover. To see how things are. It’s been, literally, ages.

Elijah asks if he could maybe stay in their spare room — “If it’s not too much trouble.”

Mrs. Rosenbaum doesn’t like it at all, telling her husband that his “tradition” of making his wife open the door for Elijah is ridiculous — “I would have liked to be more modern, but you said no.”

I was surprised to find that I enjoyed each of the characters in this story, from Elijah to Mr. Rosenbaum — “And it’s a miracle, after all.” — to the Rosenbaum children, who delight in revealing that some of the people eating leavened bread at the park during Passover are Jewish. I imagine in someone else’s hands, portraying the foibles of these characters, their judgments and self-righteousness, would merely manage to make the characters despicable. Here that’s not the case. All of the characters are recognizable and warm.

And poor Elijah, completely out of his element in modern-day Hendon:

‘How is Ba’al getting along these days?’ asked Elijah, in an apparent attempt to help. ‘Get much trouble with Ba’al round these parts?’

‘Oh, no,’ said the rabbi. ‘No, there hasn’t been any . . . well, apart from that unfortunate business with Mr Bloom . . . No. We haven’t had any Ba’al worship for quite some time.’

He finds other troubles. He offers to have a contest with the idol worshippers. Let’s see if Bee’Yon’Say or Bee-Bear can send down fire from heaven to light their pier.

Despite all that, the humor is understated and all of the characters, including Elijah, have a certain stereotypical British humility and deference. For example, when asked if he was upset enough about the state of affairs to do something apocalyptic, Elijah answers, “Oh no, no. I’m not authorized to set anything like that in motion.”

A humorous take on a concept similar to The Grand Inquisitor, “Soon and in Our Days” manages to show just how different current religious sensibilities are from the Old Testament — for most of us.

Is this typical Naomi Alderman? If so, I must read more.

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