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Customer Review

135 of 153 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes funny, often illuminating, 5 Sept. 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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Showing 1-10 of 15 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 7 Sep 2010, 19:59:04 BST
Antenna says:
I'm still reading this book, but you have hit the nail on the head in my opinion. I was beginning to feel nervous about posting a qualified praise of the book, since many eminent reviewers have waxed so hyperbolic over it...

In reply to an earlier post on 7 Sep 2010, 20:55:00 BST
Thank you - it's lovely when people agree with one, even if the Booker committee seem perverse. You shouldn't be nervous about being right - it is a noble thing to hold a thoughtful minority view.

The 2010 Booker shortlist, published today, includes Jacobson and omits the two outstanding books of the year (for me), The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet and February, both of which are a good deal more interesting both in subject matter and treatment than Finkler (even if De Zoet's ending is a touch weak, and neither has much to chuckle over).

In the end, chacun a son gout - these reviews can point up some obvious flaws when they appear, but mainly we're writing about what we like. And we surely don't all want to like the same thing!

Posted on 8 Sep 2010, 22:50:23 BST
G. Smith says:
Its hard to get enthused about a book where two of the main characters are so relentlessly unattractive, neither Treslove or Finkler touched me in the slightest, the only emotion that raised in me was impatience - only Libor seemed believable despite being something of a caricature.
Is this the best book of 2010? Not for me, though the author should be heartened - I bought Wolf Hall last year and wondered why it had won !!!
I'm just not in tune with the Booker Committee

Posted on 14 Oct 2010, 08:46:18 BST
[Deleted by Amazon on 7 Jan 2011, 12:51:01 GMT]

In reply to an earlier post on 20 Oct 2010, 06:02:43 BST
books! says:
Have written already about this abortion but was unaware it was blurbed by Safran Foer.

..pretty much seals the deal..

Posted on 24 Oct 2010, 15:20:42 BST
I'm debating abandoning Finkler... I started "Skippy Dies", from this years long list and abandoned that, that was after loving "Room" which kicks both of these books in the proverbial. But Im glad to read these reviews, Booker got in wrong! Finkler is just thoroughly dreary and the "Jewish" humour doesn't do enough to balance it out and is slightly misplaced in this unengaging book.

In reply to an earlier post on 24 Oct 2010, 16:05:10 BST
Oh no, "Room" didn't do it for us - such an opportunistic, exploitative book, stealing the Fritzl story, and adding nothing. Authors should beware trying to write stories which are not theirs to tell. For the same reason, the "Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" rings awfully hollow, for instance. These are the products of bad "Creative Writing" training; another example was "The Quickening Maze" on last year's list, or "The Slap" on this year's. (These writers are a bit like the current generation of politicians: they have been prepped what to say and how to say it, but under the surface there's not a lot to admire.) Yes, you can write sentences and paragraphs; no, you cannot construct a compelling narrative, because you have nothing new to say.

Remember Ezra Pound's dictum: "Literature is news that STAYS news." Finkler fails by this measure, and so does Room. Although, of course, you don't have to stick with literature; there's always space for guilty pleasures. Graham Greene, for instance, or Ian Rankin. Or Alexander McCall Smith, or Tintin.

As for your immediate dilemma, well, Finkler certainly does not improve towards the end; like Skippy Dies, which I have just abandoned, I'd leave it if you're not enjoying it. I have a fifty-page test: there are too many books, and too little time, to soldier on if you're not hooked after fifty pages. After all, fifty pages should take more than an hour to read; that's sufficient due diligence to know whether to press on. And I never, ever, read the blurbs: usually drafted by illiterate PR morons, puffing the book well beyond its true value, they can destroy the intimacy the author would otherwise generate in the opening chapters.

The chummy Booker judges gave their mate Howard the award because he had earned it with Kalooki Nights. Shame, but that's the way the big awards work, people forgetting that they are rewarding this one novel, and thinking they're on the Nobel committee. (Which in recent years has been spectacularly clever, with prizes for Pinter, Pamuk, Lessing, and Vargas Llosa).

The best book on the long list, for me, by a country mile, was "February" by Lisa Moore. A wholly different kind of writing, elevating fiction to another level. News that will stay news, indeed. I'd strongly recommend that book, especially with the cold weather coming. But I will say no more...

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2011, 18:30:25 GMT
Oh dear. I have only just started this novel, and (unwisely?) decided to see what others thought of it. I shall persevere. But - to change the subject - why was Helen Dunmore's The Betrayal missing from the Booker shortlist? This is a brilliant, sensitive, sympathetic book. If you don't like Finkler (and my jury's still out), do read it!

Posted on 24 Jan 2011, 11:05:04 GMT
I can't understand how this book won the prize, I can't get into it at all, the writer is too busy showing us all how clever and educated he is, I find it totally boring, there are millions of great books out there, I'm afraid I'm giving up, and on to something I enjoy, not enought time now, to waste on boring psuedo clever clogs(I'm 65) I used to wade my way through crap books to see if they would get any better, the characters in this book leave me cold.

In reply to an earlier post on 8 Feb 2011, 17:54:42 GMT
Laconico says:
Jacobson is a fraud and the Booker is total nonsense.
Nobel is the only literary prize in the world worth it's salt...most of the time.
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