Monday, October 4, 2010
Following the Booker: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one...' - Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results. Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor's grand, central London apartment.
It's a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends' losses. And it's that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.
An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Howard Jacobson was born in Manchester, brought up in Prestwich and was educated at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield, and Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied under F. R. Leavis. He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to teach at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His novels include The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize) and, most recently, the highly acclaimed The Act of Love. Howard Jacobson lives in London.
***** (Average rating: 4 stars)
"Jacobson cunningly crafts sublime pathos from comedy and vice versa. As such, he is the literary equivalent of Tony Hancock, illuminating the conflict, anger, love and dependence created by friendship while wincing at the ignominy and absurdity of the characters' predicament. Jacobson's prose is a seamless roll of blissfully melancholic interludes. Almost every page has a quotable, memorable line." - Christian House, Independent on Sunday
"The opening chapters of this novel boast some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language, as though the writer, like his characters, is caught up in a whirlwind courtship (of each other, of the reader, of the idea of the preciousness of now in the teeth of time's passing). Jacobson's brilliance thrives on the risk of riding death to a photo-finish, of writing for broke. Exhilaration all the way." - Tom Adair, The Scotsman
"Jacobson answers none of the questions he raises in The Finkler Question, but the path he follows through its thorny issues involves situations which are both very funny and terribly sad, often simultaneously." - Justin Warshaw, The Times Literary Supplement