It’s not surprising that Eshkol Nevo is one of Israel’s most critically acclaimed and best-selling novelists. Often filled with flawed yet ultimately irresistible characters, his books are so compulsively readable that they can be a challenge to put down. Ever since the remarkable debut of his 2004 novel Homesick, Nevo has kept a strong focus on the travails of love, the sustaining nature of friendships, and the meaning of home. Over the years, he has reliably brought keen insight into this fraught emotional territory, sometimes through acerbic wit and, elsewhere, aching melancholy.
Comprised of three suspenseful and masterfully crafted narratives, Inside Information may be Nevo’s most startling and complex novel to date. The first story is a grim forensic account of the disastrous outcome of a romantic honeymoon interrupted by an interloper. The second concerns the unraveling of a senior doctor’s life after he develops an inexplicably fierce, almost uncanny urge to protect a young female resident in his department. And in the third, most mysterious story, a husband/father simply vanishes — an especially surprising feat in a small country in which everyone seems to know everyone else. Each of these vignettes is written in a confessional mode with a wide cast of characters. A few of them are caught up in self-destructive spirals. Others struggle to cope in the wake of inexplicable deaths, bewildering disappearances, and heartache (one character, determined to overcome a painful betrayal, undertakes a grueling trek until “my legs hurt more than my heart”). In the novel’s thrillingly phantasmagoric coda, some of these lost souls encounter one another in a decidedly bizarre setting.
Throughout the book, Nevo captures the serendipity of lives brought together at precisely the right or wrong moment in time. Even when his characters follow their worst inclinations, he clearly has an abiding affection for them. As in his earlier works, there are intimate portraits of familial tenderness and sometimes heart-wrenching miscommunications between husbands and wives, parents and children. And as in the past, Nevo insists on multiple protagonists and narrators, refusing to limit his storytelling to a specific viewpoint or ultimate truth. His fascination with the fantasy of travel, and particularly with the identities of Israelis abroad, is apparent throughout his oeuvre. The role that Israeli popular music plays in his characters’ inner lives is also made clear. But most significant of his artistic obsessions is the consoling possibilities of storytelling itself, as in the Talmud-inspired third story in which a bereft wife and her two children search for answers in the ninety-nine cryptic prose fragments their missing husband/father has left behind.
With multifaceted portrayals of attraction and desire, and their sometimes terrible denouements, Inside Information is a fast-paced, invigorating, and thought-provoking exploration of the human psyche, utterly enthralling from start to finish. Sondra Silverston’s translation is beautifully attuned to all the psychological acuity, sly humor, and penetrating humanity of Nevo’s prose.
Ranen Omer-Sherman is the JHFE Endowed Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Louisville and editor of the forthcoming book Amos Oz: The Legacy of a Writer in Israel and Beyond.