After reading ‘1Q84’ last week, I felt like tackling something a tad shorter this week (although pretty much anything would seem short after that). Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, ‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson was the first ‘comic’ novel to win the prize since Kingsley Amis won in 1986 with ‘The Old Devils’. I’ve read some terrible reviews for this book but as part of my ongoing quest to read as many Booker Prize-winning or nominated novels as possible, I thought I’d give it a go anyway when I found it in the library the other day.
‘The Finkler Question’ tells the story of middle-aged former BBC producer Julian Treslove, his old schoolfriend Jewish philosopher Samuel Finkler and their former tutor Libor Sevcik. It’s certainly not an easy book to fall in love with. The satire of the BBC was nicely done as were the general observations of relationships and aging but I still think Julian Barnes is more skilled than Jacobson when it comes to incorporating subtle humour and irony into his work. I admit the theme of what it means to be Jewish was probably lost on me but that’s not to say that other readers might not enjoy it. My main problem with the book was that I didn’t find the characters or the general plot particularly interesting. Comic novels shouldn’t be laborious to read but unfortunately that’s how I felt about ‘The Finkler Question’.
Some of the sharp observations that Jacobson makes in his writing reminded me a little of Ian McEwan’s style of writing but I think the overall work had something missing. McEwan famously won the Booker Prize for one of his weakest works, ‘Amsterdam’ in 1998 but has lost out on five other occasions. Ironically, I think the same thing may well have happened to Jacobson whose other work has been widely acclaimed yet it is this book which has won one of the most prestigious literary awards. At the Booker Prize ceremony in 2010 when Jacobson won, Booker Prize chairman, Sir Andrew Motion, said ‘It wasn’t unanimous but it was a decision that everybody is entirely happy with’. When the judges themselves come out with such oxymoronic statements, it does make you wonder how they really decide who wins and for what reasons…
8 responses to “The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson”
I agree that something was missing. I read it last year and was underwhelmed. I felt quite a few of the shortlist had more merit.
Very true! I just couldn’t get into this one despite having had a number of very positive reviews and recommendations from friends. There was the occasional image or turn of phrase that were brilliant but I just didn’t care for the self-dramatising protagonist. He also reminded me of Adrian Mole somehow….
I did not like ‘The Finkler Question’ at all, probably more because of its politics than anything else. There are at least a hundred Jewish writers whom I prefer.
I read it the year it won, it left me completely cold.
Yes, I read this a while ago and didn’t like it! Didn’t like the characters, particularly the protagonist, didn’t find it comedic. I found it interesting that he would turn to Judaism for some sense of identity, but it’s not something I could identify with and felt there was (potentially) alot there that I missed given that I’m not Jewish!
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