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Review: Fervor - Toby Lloyd

Genre: Literary, Contemporary Fiction

Published: Avid Readers Press, March 2024

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars

“We have arrived at a paradox. To live as a jew is impossible, and not to live as a Jew is equally impossible. Both paths are obscene, both insult the dead. Our subject today is whether it is possible to speak intelligently about the Holocaust. There are men who have claimed, some with great authority, that it is not possible.”

Right off the bat, let’s start by addressing the elephant in the room that admittedly changed the lens through which I went into the story. This book is being done a disservice by its marketing team by being marketed as a horror/ghost-story. It is not… It’s a literary fiction novel about the relationships and connections within a Jewish family and the multigenerational ripple-effect that the trauma of the Holocaust sent through it.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of “horrors” interlinked within this story; horrors of the aftermath of war, of the inhuman crimes taking place in WWII, of substance abuse and mental health, of neglect and abuse, and many more. But this is not a horror-novel, but a family tragedy at its core.

What I loved:

Viewed as a generational-saga instead of primarily a work of horror, Fervor succeeds in many aspects. We follow three generations of the Rosenthal family, largely centering around Hannah, a devout mother and believer in the literal interpretation of the Old Testament (specifically the existence of literal Good and Evil). Hannah is a journalist, living with her husband in North London and currently working on a partially fictionalized biography of her father Yosef’s life and the horrors he lived through as a Holocaust survivor. Her taking of these events stirs up a lot of friction within the family. Caught in the crossfire are Hannah’s two adolescent children Tovyah and Elsie. Things take a turn for the worse when Elsie becomes drawn to the darker sides of Jewish mythology and her mental health starts to suffer in turn.

Fervor would make for a fantastic book-club pick as there are so many important discussions to be had here. Discussions on religion, cultural identity, generational trauma (in particular the “ownership” and right to speak of said trauma), and many more. I loved how Toby Lloyd chose to touch on these subjects, without spelling things out or moralizing the reader. A lot of the dynamics involved are implied through character-interactions, which enhances that feeling that there’s so much more under the surface with this family than first meets the eye.

All of the characters are flawed in their own ways, some irredeemably so. Yet all of them are written to be understandable, considering their circumstances, which is an incredibly difficult thing to do. The level to which Toby Lloyd manages that (considering it’s a debut too!) is impressive!

What I didn’t love:

My biggest critique is the continuous distance I felt to the characters, which I think was mostly due to the choice of POV. A large chunk of the story is told from a perspective outside the core-family; as an outsider looking in. Personally, I would’ve preferred a more claustrophobic inside perspective, as I feel it would’ve fit the story and tone better.

Finally, I have to circle back to the mismarketing. It may seem unfair to critique a book heavily for something outside the authors control, but as a message to the publishers its importance to a books success can’t be understated. This book got lucky with me, as I happen to like both horror- ánd literary fiction. Readers who expected an exorcist-like novel about a teenage girl divulging and unhinging into Jewish Mysticism (which is not an unfair expectation coming off the marketing!) will come away disappointed. I truly hope the publisher will address this, as to make sure the book reaches its correct audience.

Many thanks to Avid Reader Press for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Find this book here on Goodreads.


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