Paula Xiberras

Roger Mendelson once considered making his home in Tasmania and has friends associated with, appropriately, the Friends school. Although living in Tasmania didn’t materialise for Roger, he has found a similar place of natural beauty and quiet in Victoria’s Dandenongs.

When we chat, Roger reminds me of Hobart, having Australia’s oldest synagogue and the interesting fact of the synagogue in Launceston having front row benches reserved for convicts.

The discussion regarding the synagogues has relevance to Rogers’s novel Eliyahu’s Mistress, the love story of a catholic, Frances and Steven from the Jewish faith. The Eliyahu of the title is Frances’ dog who is named after the music by Mendelson rather than the biblical character.

Steven is a businessman who values his Jewish heritage and although involved in the local community is not overly religious. Frances on the other hand has a strong belief in her Catholic faith and its mysticism. She is very much connected both to the natural and spiritual world and often can be found out in the unspoiled environment around her home, deep in contemplation.

Frances works for a Catholic charity and she meets Steven when he is recruited to help the charity in marketing and promotion. A business relationship between Steven and Frances develops into dynamic discussions on work religion and life.

The intellectual relationship eventually becomes something more, something forbidden because Steven is married but as we never meet his wife we empathise with the characters we know. Steven and Frances. The novel is refreshing in that it doesn’t shy away from religious debate something rarely found in relationship novels and Mendelson is not afraid of describing his characters as something other than youthfully beautiful. That is not to say they are not an attractive couple. Frances is a beautiful woman but as well as the physical, there is the beauty of intellect and character.

A lawyer by profession, a career which demands precision, Roger finds fiction ‘allows unrestrained freedom in developing characters’.

The novel, in keeping with its mystical feel, provides a suitable if surprising ending.

Eliyahu’s Mistress is out now published by Sid Harta Publishers.