Thursday, 15 September 2011

Devouring Books: Heartburn by Nora Ephron

Oh, Nora. You're so hilarious and wonderful, why aren't you my best friend? I mean, it's probably because you're fifty years older than me, and live 3,000 miles away, but do those things really matter? We could make it work! Heartburn is, I think, Ephron's one and only novel, and it should really, I feel, be labelled more as a memoir since it is an exact representation of the things that happened to her. So accurate, in fact, that according to Wikipedia, Carl Bernstein (Ephron's second husband, and 'Mark' in the book) threatened to sue over it. If that's not admitting that the book is basically the truth, then I don't know what is!

It seems, of course, pretty hypocritical of Bernstein to sue over this book when, according to Ephron's character, 'Rachel', he had a column in which he outlined their lives for the American public every week (something that sounds suspiciously like a blog- whenever in the book he asks 'I wonder if I could get a column out of this' you could easily imagine him saying 'I wonder if there's a blog post in this'). But anyway. If you don't know anything about Nora Ephron and her general life drama (and why would you?) this book is more or less a document of that time when she was seven months pregnant and her husband, Carl Bernstein, great unveiler of Watergate, came home and told her that he was in love with another woman. He sounds like a real charmer if you ask me, but this isn't about me, so let's focus. As you can imagine, this is about the point where Ephron's ('Rachel's') life falls apart, and she discovers that everything she thought she knew wasn't true, and Heartburn seems to me, basically, to be her way of dealing with the shit that's happened to her.

In being a memoir in all but name, Heartburn seemed to me to be the polar opposite of Blonde- Ephron transfers all of her thoughts and feelings onto a fictional character in order to make them easier to deal with, whereas Oates, in Blonde, used a real life person but made up thoughts that she may have had. This doesn't really have anything to do with either book, but I just thought it was interesting that I should read two books that do similar but opposite things within a week of each other. Heartburn is so much funnier than Blonde, though (which, though I loved it dearly was not at all a barrel of laughs) and actually it's a lot funnier than the situation calls for. Some the anecdotes had me actually laughing out loud, and I rarely do that when I'm reading. Like I found with I Feel Bad About My Neck, though, the laughs in Heartburn were, at times, a cover for some much deeper sadness, as I think is so clearly revealed towards the end of the book:
"Vera said 'why do you feel you have to turn everything into a story?'
So I told her why:
Because if I tell the story I control the version.
Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.
Because if I tell the story, it doesn't hurt as much.
Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it." 
You see? But also, most of it is funny, so if you shun the sadder (albeit more profound) side of things then please don't despair! You can definitely read this book.

I'd have to basically say that there's nothing about this book that I didn't like, other than the fact that it actually happened to Nora Ephron, and damn, I don't want anyone treating my future best friend badly! There are also recipes dispersed throughout the book that I did tend to find distracting rather than enhancing, but, having said that I do kind of want to make a few of them, so criticising that is no good! Basically it's awesome and I want you to read it, and what I want me to do is see the film, because, not only was the screenplay written by Ephron (kind of obviously) but Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep play Mark and Rachel respectively. In what way does that not sound like the perfect film? Add Mike Nichols as director, and you've got yourself a film that, in writing at least, deserves way more than the 5.8 stars it currently has on IMDb. This requires some investigating, so I'm off to add Heartburn to my Lovefilm list, while you go and read the book!


  1. Based on the cover alone, this is a book I would pass by without a second thought. But given your review and I trust your book taste, I'm considering it. It sounds interesting and Nicholson and Streep are in the movie version of it? How could that go wrong?

  2. Oh man, I so would have walked past the book cover too, but I was like 'EPHRON!' because really, she can do no wrong in my eyes! I don't know how the movie could have gone wrong but apparently it did- I'll seek it out and let the whole world know why! Or, you know, like 3 people... hehe

  3. I have never heard of her! But this sounds amazing. I agree that the cover isn't the greatest but it does sound like it's worth the read. :)