Howard Jacobson is widely acclaimed as a humorous writer. Whos Sorry Now?
is exceedingly funny but for all the bubbling wit, word play and satirical gibes it is infused with darkness. If his last book, the semi-autobiographical The Mighty Walzer
, was Philip Roths Portnoy's Complaint
relocated to 1950s Manchester, then this is possibly Jacobson's American Pastoral
Whos Sorry Now? centres on Marvin Kreitman, a middle-aged Jewish Lothario, a man with a "nostalgic affection for many of the old discredited categories of masculine swagger". He was once a promising young academic but somehow ended up following in the footsteps of his father--a curmudgeon who hawked purses at a street market in Balham. Now the owner of a thriving leather goods business, Kreitman has a wife and two grown-up children, an elegant house in south London and a string of mistresses. Each week he meets his old university friend Charlie Merriweather for a Chinese meal in Soho. Charlie is a big, puppy dog of a man, brutalised by his public schooling but seemingly (if a little soppily) devoted to his wife and family. The Merriweathers enjoy "nice sex" and write childrens books. To indulge in a vaguely pertinent culinary metaphor, Charlie is sweet to Marvins sour. However, on this particular day Charlie suggests that they should swap wives--so far so 70s sitcom. Before Marvin can persuade Charlie against the idea, Nyman, a muscle-toned cyclist, runs him down in the street. Nyman is the novels malevolent force. Following the crash, this apparent nobody, an enigmatic wannabe television star, weasels his way into their lives and triggers a series of unexpected couplings, leaving Kreitmans daughter to enquire at one point: "Whos doing what to whom this time?"
Jacobson examines sexual obsession and infidelity in ribald, if poignant detail. However, it is his exploration of the painful scars left by family life that make this book both riveting and, certainly at its end, disturbing. Although it is littered with wonderfully amusing barbs against the cult of personality, installation art and even backpacker yarn The Beach, there is probably more tragedy than comedy in this remarkable novel.--Travis Elborough
--This text refers to the
Howard Jacobson is the author of six novels and four works of non-fiction. His last novel, The Mighty Walzer, won the Everyman Wodehouse Award for comic writing.