54 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on 19 March 2013
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.
216 of 234 people found the following review helpful
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.
119 of 133 people found the following review helpful
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.
134 of 152 people found the following review helpful
on 5 September 2010
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  [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"
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 8 March 2011
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.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 March 2014
I really enjoyed the start of this book. Howard Jacobson writes well and is very witty. However, it goes on and on and on about being Jewish - this was fine in the beginning, but I'm only 65% of the way through it and am bored. There's just nothing else to the story other than examining and re-examining what it means to be Jewish and 'Jewish-isms' - interesting in parts, but it would be nice if there was a story line too.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 9 June 2014
The amount of bad reviews on this page and the incredible success that this book enjoys shows again that reading is a very personal experience. I just read a review by some Amazon reader who basically suggests to not waste any time reading this book and instead to go read something by Ian McEwan.
I personally can't stand Ian McEwan as a writer. I find his books overly dramatic, tedious and uninspiring but mostly what bothers me is his complete lack of humor.
Jacobson, on the other hand, is just oozing talent in that classical English style. In fact, I believe that if Oscar Wilde would be alive today that's the way he would write. Jacobson constructs sentences with exceptional stylishness and breathes depth, vulnerability and complexity into all of his characters and notions. But mostly, what won me over; it's his wit and humor :)
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 5 July 2011
The following contains spoilers, so stop reading if you think that an element of surprise is all-important. I doubt many Booker Prize readers read books mainly to find out what happens, though.
My partner and I aren't usually Booker Prize readers, but he holds a brief for Howard Jacobson so persuaded me to try The Finkler Question. I can see where the negative reviewers are coming from. A few sections into the book, the mannered, precious style and the meandering, make-a-meal-of-everything narrative almost had us both slamming it shut in annoyance. But if you persevere, you do get into it: the style grows less obtrusive and the subject-matter more compelling as the author fires up.
He fires up mainly when exposing the hypocrisies and absurdities surrounding the whole question of Israel, and the renewed menace of anti-Semitism. These pages are coruscating, raising the suspicion that he really wanted to write a polemic about our problem with Jews, but he knew that that would get him nowhere at all with the left-leaning literary lions of London, so he disguised it as a fashionably time-looping, open-ended tragi-comedy about a limp aesthete rather like the lions themselves, and must be laughing as he watches them lap it up.
Seeing what you want to see in a book is an odd phenomenon - as in the case of all the critics who describe this book as a comic novel, just because they have some idea of Howard Jacobson being a funny writer. He is a funny writer and there is a lot of wit and some great one-liners in this book, but overall it is bleak, sad and angry, and rightly so. The avowedly funny scenes, like the account of the blog of an American Jew who is trying to restore his foreskin, seem extraneous and pretty tedious.
My main problem with the book is the central character, the wannabe Jew Julian Treslove, who, as I suggested above, seems to be a vehicle for the book rather than a character. He just doesn't add up. He is mainly presented as an aimless, rather pathetic chap, stuck in a series of dead-end jobs and always falling in love with unsuitable women, but when Jacobson wants to make use of him as `author's voice' he suddenly becomes witty, assertive, and prone to brilliant epiphanies: as when he finally realises, with merciless clarity, that his relationship with the Jewish characters consists of 'sucking at their tragedy because his own life was a farce'. But after he has learned all this wisdom as `author's voice', the author at the end of the book dumps him, as a character, right back where he started. On the other hand, the smart-arse reluctant Jew, Finkler, is allowed to end the book as a dignified representative of grief and growth, although he has never been brought to realise just what a s**t he has been, let alone done anything to make up for it. This just seems unfair. I don't mind open endings but I am old-fashioned enough to like characters to get poetic justice.
Read it, though - it stays with you.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2011
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?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 22 August 2011
The cover of the book states : "A real giant, a great, great writer" ; "Full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding"; "Another masterpiece" ; "A blistering portrayal of a funny man" ; "...some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language ... Exhiliration all the way."
Pardon? I think something must have passed me by....
I am wondering if these reviewers read the same book as me.... I do not doubt the writing skills of Mr Jacobson, but I must be truthful - the goal, after all, of any book review - and declare that I have seldom been more irritated and also depressed by a book.
Witty this is not - I did not laugh, chuckle or smile even once. A funny man? 'Funny' could only surely be used of the central character (Julian Treslove) in the sense of 'strange'. Talk about navel-gazing! I wanted to shake him into some sense of humanity and, well, SENSE.... This is someone who apparently obtained a degree in the humanities at university, and yet he is not able to tell his two sons apart, separate out his many women in his mind, attain even a small modicum of warmth and stability in his primary relationships.... Far from being part of the portrayal of what it means to be Jewish in the 21st Century, this book, in my assessment is, in fact, about a whole set of also-rans who all need psychotherapy. I very much doubt that it is a portrayal of what most Jewish people of today feel like, and I even think it insulting that the reviewers state that Jacobson is investigating this subject.
The other two central male characters, Sam Finkler and Libor Sevc'ik, are also far from stable - one fixated on women in general although he admires his wife, the other fixated on his wife though he admires women in general - and there is not a single male character who has his feet firmly on the ground with a whit of 'normal' feeling.
The women : they are unfortunately portrayed in terms of their voluptuousness, almost exclusively as prey for testosterone freaks.
Sorry again - this book was so frustrating, boring and self obsessed, so far from the world that I believe is real to most people, that I felt like consigning my copy to the dustbin. Ask my family - I was only able to get to the end with an immense effort.
One good thing : now I've read it, I'll never have to read it again!