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209 of 227 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What it means to be Jewish in 21st century Britain - with added self-analysis
Julian Treslove is a middle aged former BBC radio producer now working as a professional look alike but quite who he looks like varies. Although never married, he has fathered two sons, neither of whom he sees regularly. Dismissed from the BBC for being too morbid on his late night Radio 3 programme, he is given to depressing levels of self-analysis in his small flat...
Published on 23 Sep 2010 by Ripple

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well written and funny at the beginning, but I ended up hating it.
This is a book about Anti-Semitism, especially London Jewish self-loathing Anti-Semistism.

If you are someone who could not possibly find this an interesting subject, I wouldn't even bother starting it.
As a Jewish Londoner, I do find the subject very interesting indeed...but maybe in a newspaper article. In a novel there has to be, surely, something more,...
Published 16 months ago by S. Collins


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Well written and funny at the beginning, but I ended up hating it., 19 Mar 2013
By 
S. Collins (London,England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
This is a book about Anti-Semitism, especially London Jewish self-loathing Anti-Semistism.

If you are someone who could not possibly find this an interesting subject, I wouldn't even bother starting it.
As a Jewish Londoner, I do find the subject very interesting indeed...but maybe in a newspaper article. In a novel there has to be, surely, something more, like a decent story or touching, realistic characters.

I did really laugh at the beginning of the book; proper laugh-out-loud laughing. But I'm not sure if you are not Jewish and have had little contact with Jews, you'd see the joke. Lots of Yiddish expressions and in-jokes, which mean a lot to me as a middle-aged North london Jew, but to the gentile world? I'm not being condescending, but have you ever given thought to the difference between a "shlepper" and a "nebbishe"? Jacobson says a "shlepper" knows he's a "shlepper", but a "nebbishe" is unaware that he's a "nebbishe". To me, that is a very observant comment by the author and I have given it much thought since reading it. I think he's right. What do you think? Do you have any idea what he's talking about? Do you care?

Reading the first 50 pages or so I thought I was going to love this book and was looking forward to writng a positive review, but suddenly, and I don't know exactly when, I felt...ENOUGH ALREADY!
It's like going to a friend's 50th birthday party, having a great time dancing to all the old 70s disco classics and then, almost without warning, a wave of fatigue sweeps over you and you want to go home...right now!

Unfortunately, despite its very promising beginning, this novel rapidly turns into a very tiresome rant, but I'm not sure about what...and I couldn't wait to finish it. I can't even tell you what happened in the end. I couldn't care less. Most importantly, it doesn't give a very favourable impression about people of my background...and that really upsets me. So, dear freinds from other faiths and no faith, I ask you please to watch Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm instead...and laugh yourself to sleep every night.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The definition of tautology?, 1 Mar 2013
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
A lot of words on not a lot. Endless looping, spiralling questions on the meaning of being Jewish, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere. The subject matter is irrelevant, it could have been based on being an anarchist or an obsessive birdwatcher...it's just not that interesting unless you are experiencing the same issues. Ended up being one of those books that I decided to finish through gritted teeth because I could then critique it with validity. Thought it might pick up towards the end...but no. Left the book in a hotel room in Leon, Nicaragua and felt guilty at the thought of someone else picking it up anticipating a free (and entertaining) read. Sorry.
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209 of 227 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What it means to be Jewish in 21st century Britain - with added self-analysis, 23 Sep 2010
By 
Ripple (uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Hardcover)
Julian Treslove is a middle aged former BBC radio producer now working as a professional look alike but quite who he looks like varies. Although never married, he has fathered two sons, neither of whom he sees regularly. Dismissed from the BBC for being too morbid on his late night Radio 3 programme, he is given to depressing levels of self-analysis in his small flat that's not quite in Hampstead. What Treslove lacks is a sense of belonging and this, he notes his Jewish friends have in spades, particularly his old school friend and rival, the best-selling philosopher and TV personality, Sam Finkler. Treslove, by contrast, always feels on the outside of life.

When the book starts Treslove is again excluded as Finkler and their mutual friend and former teacher, Libor Sevcik, an elderly Jewish Czech, have both been widowed. Although the two Jewish friends have differing political views on Zionism, Treslove sees them united in their Jewishness and their sense of mutual loss. So much does Treslove want to be like his friend Finkler, a term he uses to describe all Jewish people, and for a range of other amusing reasons, when he is attacked on the way home from Libor's flat one night, he is convinced that it is an anti-Semitic attack and that Treslove is, in fact, a Finkler himself and pursues the task of answering `The Finkler Question': what does it mean to be Jewish in the 21st century?

It's not hard to see why this book has caught the attention of this year's Man Booker judges who have short-listed it for the prize. It touches on a number of compelling subjects including middle age insecurity, male competition and friendship, death, infidelity, multiculturalism and of course religious faith and the implications of this on nation states. On top of that, it is beautifully written and often very funny both in a gentle way and at times in an angry and urgent manner. It reads very much like some of the works of the great American novelist Philip Roth, but with a more British dark humour to it, and that is high praise indeed in my book.

And yet, and yet.....

The problem I had with it is that it's a very difficult book to love because the central characters are so loathsome. The most sympathetic is the wise Libor, although arguably he is the most caricature-like of characters in the book. His story though is sad and wholly believable. Finkler himself is ambitious and craves the limelight to a detestable degree and as for Treslove, you just want to shake him into action. Given Finkler's character, I find it difficult to believe that he would have any truck with the pathetic Treslove who has taken self-analysis to a level of self-paralysis. Far from wanting to find out how his Jewish conversion was progressing, I found myself thinking more along the lines of `oi vey, he's off again. Enough with the navel gazing already'.

There's an inherent contradiction in arguing that you cannot stereotype a faith and then suggesting that this weight of self-analysis is a `Jewish thing'. Finkler himself joins a movement of ASHamed Jews, against Zionism, and yet while this is an important issue, little is made of the UN's judgements on Israel's actions.

I was left in two minds about it as a book. There's no denying the quality of the writing or the urgency of the subject, but for all the humour, the characters themselves are so dark and unlikeable, that it loses force and the net impact is a very dour read for such a book filled with so much genuine humour. How can this be? Well perhaps that's `The Finkler Question' question.
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110 of 123 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Finkler Question, 25 Sep 2010
By 
Amanda Jenkinson "MandyJ" (Cheltenham) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Hardcover)
Three elderly men, lifelong friends, meet to look back on their success and failures, their loves and losses. Two of them are Jews, the third, Julian Treslove isn't, but would like to be. What follows is an exploration of Jewishness and identity and Treslove's attempt to make sense of his life.
This book has received overwhelmingly positive reviews, and has been long-listed for the Booker. Superlatives abound. "Our greatest living writer" and other such. But I remain unconvinced. Although I accept that this is a serious and original work, the self-absorbed Treslove with his implausible identity crisis, did not engage me, and the much vaunted comedy of the book passed me by. An occasional wry smile was all I could muster. Jacobson can indeed write, and he writes well, but has some irritating stylistic quirks, such as over-use of rhetorical questions and verb less sentences that begin to grate after a while.
It is often said that if Jacobson were American, he would be rated up there with Bellow and Roth. Quite possibly, for there are many similarities, not least the obsession with all things Jewish, the misogyny (women are always described in terms of their breasts) and the lack of empathy with children (are we supposed to find it amusing that Treslove muddles up his two sons?). Above all, the self-absorption and endless wordy philosophising.
Not one for me, this novel, and I remain puzzled by the fulsome praise bestowed on it.
However - and it's quite a big however - it would make a very good book group choice as there is much to discuss here. Issues of identity, male insecurity, belonging, love and loss, and perhaps most importantly, Jewishness and what it means to be a Jew along with the thorny problems of Zionism.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Appallingly boring, 14 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
Boring and pointless non-story
Boring and unlikeable characters

So not worth the effort. How did this car crash win a prize?
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134 of 152 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes funny, often illuminating, 5 Sep 2010
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Hardcover)
This angsty London-Jewish novel shows off Jacobson's deep thinking about Jewishness: it is cleverly put together and (as a gentile) I found it rather illuminating.

The medieval thinker Moses Maimonides doesn't get into many mainstream novels, and disquisitions about the relative advantages and disadvantages of foreskins even fewer. So this is an exceptional novel in those senses.

Is it a good novel, though?

Not really; I didn't get very involved with the characters, and while some of the jokes made me laugh out loud, the unloveable central characters, and the author's preference for wordy philosophising weighed down the gaps between the humorous outbursts. And as for people trying to be Jewish, I got just as much from David Baddiel's (shallower, but equally affecting) film "The Infidel" The Infidel [2010] [Blu-Ray].

P.S. Publishers who quote hyperbole on the cover tend to put me off. One-trick boy wonder Jonathan Safran Foer's reference to Jacobson as "A great, great writer" merely raises the bar too high for this book. The appropriate cover quote should have been "Sometimes funny, often illuminating". Or "Like middle-period Woody Allen, but with fewer jokes"
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Some people are Jewish - get over it, 8 Mar 2011
By 
WordWoman (Edinburgh, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
This book was billed as a comedy, and it does contain the odd witty one-liner. Unfortunately, the majority of it is taken up with unpleasant middle-aged men pontificating about what it means to be Jewish (or not).

Drippy Julian Treslove is not Jewish, but is weirdly obsessed with Jews and manages to convince himself he's one of them. His 'friend' (though they don't seem to like each other much), the obnoxious Sam Finkler, is Jewish, but spends all his time being loudly and publicly ashamed of the fact. Their mutual friend Libor, an elderly Eastern European gentleman mourning the loss of his wife, is Jewish and just gets on with it... which, as an atheist, is fine by me.

It could be because I'm not Jewish and have no experience of Jewish culture that this book left me cold. However, I think it's much more due to the thoroughly unlikeable characters, their disturbing attitudes towards women and the total lack of any credible female characters. I struggled to care about any of it - not an enjoyable read at all.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars prize-winner?, 28 Jun 2011
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
The Booker - are you joking? I found this book tiresome and repetitive. OK so I was meant to be alienated from Finkler but was I meant to be bored?
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A dreary mess, 23 Dec 2010
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This review is from: The Finkler Question (Hardcover)
I cannot recall ever reading a novel which displays such utter laziness and self indulgence, by any author. Are the editors at Howard Jacobson's publishers so star struck that they are happy to accept anything that dribbles from his fair hand? The plot consists of three characters - three men who have barely any likeable qualities between them, and for whom I cared about so little that it was almost painful to keep on reading. Ideas presented themselves in the book in such a repetitive manner I wondered why passages had not been severely edited. The question of being Jewish in England, was heavy handed and repetitive. There were occasional moments of comedy, but this was a short play or short story dragged out into 500 dreary pages, with every Jewish cliche imaginable rolled out every few pages. The extremely loose plot with the three purposeless characters seemed to sink into a state of such utter torpor I was unsure who was going to fall asleep first, them or me. I eventually, and this is rare for me, gave up a few chapters before the end.
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105 of 121 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's Grim up North London, 26 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Hardcover)
It is hard to know how to write a review that adequately sums up how poor this all is.

The book itself; tediously, crashingly dull; leaden humour masquerading as sharp wit; characters so unrealistic yet so unsympathetic that it must have take a measure of sadism to create them and a plot (not sure the word even applies) that consists of nothing happening to a nothing man.

The whole Finkler/ Jewish angle seems to consist of endless twists on political/ religious views portrayed so obtusely that very few people could hope to understand. I think the idea is to imply that somewhere inside all this nonsense is high-end thought. Yet when arguments meander so tortuously then I can't avoid the conclusion that the author doesn't even understand his own ideas.

Then there is the Booker Prize. "Hmmm, how to write a novel that will please the self-satisfied metropolitan luvvies? I know, write uber-knowingly about a subset of their friends, imply loftily that their milieu is meaningful, thoughtful and humourous and that their middle-class, middle-aged world is worthy of study. It's like that film 'Truly, Madly, Deeply Boring' or whatever. It's a winner!" Anyone doubting that the author was desperate to please the judges just needs to see his acceptance speech. And I just bet that the award-givers will justify the books poor ratings as "art always is contentious". Rubbish. This is just poor.

I'm a literary snob. I like smart books. I like Kafka. I like Balzac. I read Sartre and enjoyed it. I would have thought that snooty literary prize-winning books were made for me. The White Tiger was great. Life of Pi too. The Sea was poor but OK, we all make mistakes. But this piece of trash is just awful.
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