8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
A lean essay trying to get out of a fat novel?
, 5 July 2011
This review is from: The Finkler Question (Paperback)
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.
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