Novella a Day in May 2022 No.26

Heartburn – Nora Ephron (1983) 179 pages

Earlier in the month, Simon, my fellow Novella a Day in May-er, reviewed Heartburn by Nora Ephron. When I subsequently saw a copy in my favourite charity bookshop I decided it was A Sign. (Admittedly I’ll decide practically anything is A Sign if it means I get to buy a book off the back of it 😀 )

I’ve never read Nora Ephron because I’m not a huge fan of rom-coms (I especially don’t understand You’ve Got Mail. Tom Hanks essentially plays Jeff Bezos, who destroys Meg Ryan’s lovely family bookshop, yet apparently that’s all OK and they get together anyway???) But the quotes Simon pulled were so entertaining that I thought I’d enjoy her novel more, which was a correct assumption.

Heartburn is a fictional account of the breakdown of Nora’s second marriage to her husband Carl Bernstein (as in Woodward and Bernstein, as in Watergate). Her alter ego in this novel is Rachel, a cookery writer who is seven months pregnant and married to Mark:

“Every afternoon, Mark would emerge from his office over the garage and say he was going out to buy socks, and every evening he would come home empty-handed and say, you would not believe how hard it is to find a decent pair of socks in this city. Four weeks it took me to catch on! Inexcusable, especially since it was exactly the sort of thing my first husband said when he came home after spending the afternoon in bed with my best friend Brenda, who subsequently and as a result became my mortal enemy.


It is of course hideously ironic that the occasion for my total conversion to fidelity was my marriage to Mark, but timing has never been my strong point.”

This matter-of-fact, self-deprecating style continues throughout the novel. Rachel takes us through the painful aftermath of discovering her husband cheating as she sees friends, returns to her beloved New York from the decidedly unloved Washington, catches up with her therapy group and shares recipes with the reader.

Rachel is not remotely self-pitying but then nor does she pity anyone else:

“Show me a woman who cries when the trees lose their leaves in autumn and I’ll show you a real asshole.”

“Beware of men who cry. It’s true that men who cry are sensitive to and in touch with feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own.”

This sometimes goes too far and there are some discriminatory comments, thankfully very few but still surprising in a book from the 1980s.

Ephron’s humour stays the right side of pithy, and doesn’t descend into bitterness. Ultimately, I think she wanted to make the reader laugh and through doing so change the story from one of anguish and pain.

“That’s the catch about betrayal, of course: that it feels good, that there’s something immensely pleasurable about moving from a complicated relationship which involves minor atrocities on both sides to a nice, neat, simple one where one person has done something so horrible and unforgivable that the other person is immediately absolved of all the low grade sins of sloth, envy, gluttony, avarice and I forget the other three.”

There’s very little plot here, and I think the main enjoyment is not from the story (which is pretty ordinary) or the characterisation (which isn’t complex) but from a strong authorial voice, so distinct and entertaining.

“It has a happy ending, but that’s because I insist on happy endings.”

Heartburn was adapted by Nora Ephron into a screenplay for this 1986 film, which I find surprising as this trailer seems to bear only a passing resemblance to the book. Two strong leads though…

25 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2022 No.26

  1. “Admittedly I’ll decide practically anything is A Sign if it means I get to buy a book off the back of it” ahahah, I hear you!

    So glad you liked this one too – absolutely agree that it’s the authorial voice that makes this one a winner. And I love our overlaps this Novella-a-Day, in authors and books, as well as how different other choices have been.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Its been really great that we’ve had overlaps and still enough difference that you’ve added massively to my want-to-read list Simon! Thank you for pointing me towards Heartburn, I wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise and it was a treat!


  2. OMG–blast from the past! I had a date to that movie. Let’s just say we saw different movies together! I’m not sure 24 year old men and women see or process things the same! Apparently I was more of a feminist than my date had thought LOL

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hear hear to the anything’s a sign thought! I’m happy to take anything as a sign too 🙂

    I certainly like the sound of her voice from the quotes you’ve shared. Also glad you reviewed this book because I only vaguely knew her name as someone associated with movies, then wondered if there was an author with the same name (something like Elizabeth Taylor), but have now finally cleared it up.

    I can understand your reaction to You’ve Got Mail; it was rather sad that the bookshop goes under, and eventually doesn’t seem to matter as much. I did quite enjoy the movie know and loved the dog even though he doesn’t do much!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So glad to see that you liked this, despite some reservations. I read it quite a long time ago and often wonder about revisiting it. She has such a smart way of writing about deeply painful experiences in such a humorous, emotional truthful way. As you say, she never descends into bitterness or self-pity. Lovely review.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OK, you’ve got me with this one! I find Bernstein fascinating – he’s such a mix of intelligence and paranoia, and I can well imagine he’d have been pretty magnetic in his younger days. Plus the quotes made me laugh out loud. The film looks like it might be fun too – Streep and Nicolson!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apparently he never forgave her for this! But actually, considering he was cheating on his pregnant wife, I didn’t think she portrayed him too badly. I definitely want to hunt down the film. As you say – Streep and Nicholson!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I read this a couple of years ago after reading Northanger Abbey and another love struck classic and did find it bitter! But the authorial voice is very strong as you say and I think at a different time I would approach it differently, I haven’t met another person who didn’t enjoy it so it must be me!

    Liked by 1 person

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