By Adam Bethlehem

Published Autumn 2014 – Click to buy from Amazon

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Ben seeks refuge from intrusive memories in the world of his imagination. Life changes when he meets Holly at a party in London – the invasion of his thoughts is complete when she appears beside him in a favourite dream. He introduces her to Albert Einstein who seems to approve of her ambitions.

The silver lining of new-found happiness is threatened by the great cloud of times past. But assistance is at hand. From Mr Freud’s famous couch, Ben must overcome the prejudice of privilege if he is to reclaim Holly …

Screw Freud. He’s got no right to invade, taking charge with his cigars and superior manner. So what if I like Holly? There has to be a motivation and, all of a sudden, sex isn’t enough for him.


by Julia Harrison – Daunt Books

Set in the 1980s during the apartheid era, Mr Einstein and Me follows the fortunes of Ben, who has left South Africa to pursue his medical training in London. It is clear from the novel’s preamble that Ben feels uncomfortable with the social milieu he finds himself drawn into. The young professionals he meets at a party may be aware of the political situation in South Africa, but they have no idea of Ben’s background or the way in which he feels weighed down by his past. This huge gulf makes Ben insecure, and anyone who has felt like a fish out of water at a party, will sympathise, and wince at some of the conversations that ensue. As the story unfolds, Ben meets Holly, who helps him to relax, and with whom he begins a passionate relationship. Ben works out his inner confusion through recurring dreams, in which he meets some of the great thinkers of the twentieth century, including Mr Einstein.
I particularly liked the opening of Mr Einstein and Me, and the scenes at the hospital in which Ben and his fellow students are forced to participate in a gruelling introduction to the world of medicine. Ben is in awe of Jonny, a surgeon, whose party he attends, and through whom he meets Holly. We know, through the author’s use of flashback, what the bright young things at the party do not; whether at work in a casualty department, or at play on a football field, Ben has been confronted by violence and prejudice of the worst kind:
“I know apartheid is wrong. I know the system is bad. What I want to know is what I should do. What can I do. Me. Personally. Now.”
I was moved by this scene, and am reminded of the words of Edmund Burke, which I have read in the Guardian today, in a different context (that of the horrific cases of abuse in Rotherham):
“the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good (people) to do nothing.”
Most of us do not have to make a choice: we can read the paper, shake our heads, and then go to work and carry on with our lives. For Ben life has been different. His dilemma, and his struggles to relax in a new environment in London are beautifully realised. It brings back my own feelings as a teenager at the time of apartheid in South Africa, reading My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan, and thinking for the first time about how it would be to live in a country whose regime one didn’t agree with. These are fundamental, human questions that remain relevant, whether we are talking about the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1930s, or the current terror in Syria and Gaza.
Adam Bethlehem throws a lot of his own experience, and passions into this novel. In setting the scene so well, he draws the reader into Ben’s world. So much so in fact, that I raced through the surreal, and funny dream sequences, in which Ben seeks advice from Einstein, et al, in order to get back to finding out how things are going with his new love, Holly. At the end of the novel, we are treated to some jottings from Ben Adam’s notebook. I had to revisit it, to check if Mr Burke was included. How pleased I was to find amongst them a quotation from Mr Emerson in A Room with A View, which is one of my favourite novels:
‘It is fate, but call it Italy if it pleases you’.
I am going to Amsterdam and then Paris by train on Sunday. I think I may just have to take Mr Einstein and Me with me to read again, this time more slowly.

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