Naomi’s novel view of a lesbian in Orthodox world
Jewish Telegraph, April 2017
AUTHOR Naomi Alderman offered advice to actresses Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams as they filmed an adaptation of her novel Disobedience.
“We had some conversations about who the characters are,” Naomi said.
“Why a person would choose to stay in the Orthodox Jewish life even if they knew they were gay is a really interesting question, and the answers aren’t obvious if you don’t come from that world.”
The novel, about lesbianism in the north London Jewish community, won the 2006 Orange Award for New Writers.
Ronit Krushka returns to London when her father dies, but when she meets up with her childhood girlfriend, Esti, who is married to a rabbi, it reignites feelings.
Naomi, daughter of Jewish Telegraph columnist Geoffrey Alderman, waited until filming started in January before finally accepting that the adaptation would be made.
She told me: “I first heard Rachel Weisz was interested in it in 2013.
“But one can never count on anything in the film industry, so I didn’t tell myself it was definitely going to happen until the first day of filming.”
The film — directed by Sebastián Lelio and written by Lelio and Rebecca Lenkiewicz — follows the book’s plot “to some extent,” Naomi said, “but it also tells its own story.
“I think that’s appropriate: the world has moved on — and even the frum world has moved on — in the 15 years since I started working on the book and I think Esti and Ronit’s story would be different today to 15 years ago.”
Naomi is keeping her fingers crossed that her cameo is kept in the final cut.
“You can look out for me in the background in a shop, wearing a tichel (headscarf) and contemplating foil cookware,” she laughed.
Naomi, who has also written Doctor Who tie-in novel Borrowed Time, told The Guardian last year that when she started writing Disobedience she was religious, but “by the end I wasn’t. I wrote myself out of it”.
She also revealed in The Guardian interview that while studying at Oxford University, she was the victim of antisemitic bullying . . . but didn’t discover it for many years.
As the college kitchens wouldn’t cook kosher food, she ate at the Jewish Society six days a week.
And on the eve of each Shabbat, she would leave her toothbrush in the bathroom and files in the library so she wouldn’t have to carry them.
But her toothbrush would often go missing and her papers would be torn.
She said that at a college reunion, “this bloke sitting next to me, said, ‘Me and my friends used to mess with your Jewish stuff on the Sabbath’, and I thought, what you are confessing to is antisemitic bullying.
“It’s really shocking to me that he didn’t start by apologising.”
Disobedience introduced Naomi to the literary world, but she has since taken the industry by storm.
All her novels — Disobedience, The Lessons, The Liars’ Gospel and The Power — have been chosen for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime slot.
Her prize-winning short fiction has appeared in Prospect magazine, on BBC Radio 4 and in a number of anthologies.
She is currently adapting last year’s novel The Power for television — which she hopes will run for a number of seasons — and is working on a new novel.
Naomi, who was named Sunday Times’ Young Writer of the Year 10 years ago, has an unexpected string to her bow — she writes computer games.
Zombies, Run!,which she co-created with London-based games company Six to Start, is just going into its sixth season and she is still lead writer.
“I’m taking on more writers now to help me out with the workload,” the 43-year-old said.
“We’ve had about 4.5 million downloads so it’s very much a useful going concern.
“I don’t play as many games as I should, but I’m enjoying Zelda: Breath of the Wild right now.”
Naomi said The Power took her three and a half years to research and write — a year more than Disobedience.
She revealed in The Guardian how she had written 200,000 words for The Power — and then binned the story.
She ended up keeping just 2,000 words from that draft and changed the book from one protagonist to four.
Naomi is professor of creative writing at Bath Spa University and was mentored by novellist Margaret Atwood as part of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative.
“We’re very fond of each other,” Naomi said. “We went birdwatching together in Panama earlier this year.
“She’s taught me how to live as a writer in many ways — practical, useful advice. And obviously being associated with her has made an enormous difference; people prick up their ears when they hear her name, and that’s given me a new kind of credibility and interest.”