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by Gail Hareven
Translated from the Hebrew by Dalya Bilu
Reviewed by Dorothy Dudek Vinicombe

If you expect fiction to have plot, then this award-winning novel by Israeli author Gail Hareven is probably not the book for you! However, if you wish to experience living in someone else's head, reading The Confessions of Noa Weber will offer you very rare insights into how another person (albeit, an imaginary one) thinks and feels. The complex desires, yearnings and agonies of a woman in love are dissected in exquisite prose in this illuminating study of unrequited passion.

The eponymous heroine, Noa Webber, is a feminist lawyer/writer in her late forties who lives in Jerusalem. She is a successful bestselling author thanks to her series of novels featuring a feisty detective/lawyer called Nira Woolf. The media and most of Noa's readers assume that the author and her creation are one and the same person, particularly as both of them are women who scorn conventional relationships. Fictional Nira has sexual adventures but never commits herself to one man, while author Noa is a single mother with a 'reputation'. On the surface it seems that Noa is the quintessential modern woman—independent both sexually and financially, living life on her own terms.

In reality, however, Noa is a woman obsessed with love, a paid up member of Love Addicts Anonymous; blood sister to Iseult, Anna Karenina and all those other tragic heroines in literature who love too much. At the age of 17, Noa fell in love with a Russian émigré called Alek, and all that she has ever yearned for is to have Alek love her back the same way. This is where Hareven's novel becomes complicated, because Noa does indeed marry Alek only a few months after their initial meeting and they even have a child together. Clearly Alek has some feelings for Noa, but he sees their marriage as a political statement. Although the pregnancy is unplanned, Alek supports Noa's decision to have the baby and makes some provision for them both before he leaves the country.

Over the next thirty years Noa's love for the largely absent Alek is examined over and over again. Like a child who cannot stop picking at an old scab, Noa agonizes over everything Alek says or does in those rare moments they have together. She accepts that he goes on to have another family, and she accepts that she is one of many women whom Alek occasionally sleeps with.

For some readers, Noa may seem like the ultimate doormat, someone who remains faithful to a man who cannot commit. For others, she may be an example of true unconditional love, requiring nothing in return from theobject of her passion. Does this novel have a happy ending? Hard to know for sure. Certainly it raises more questions about the nature of love than it answers. What The Confessions of Noa Weber does reveal is that Gail Hareven is prepared to be unflinchingly honest in her portrayal of how that emotion we call love can make us both saints and sinners, fools and sages.