Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review Tuesday: 'The Finkler Question'

Today’s ‘Review Tuesday’. Last ‘Review Tuesday’ I wrote ‘I’ve read a few other works by Nobel Laureates and Booker winners. One of my 2011 resolutions is to read more of them’. The Finkler Question [1, 2], by English novelist and critic Howard Jacobson [3], won the 2010 Man Booker Prize [4]. Its setup’s quite complicated. Its main characters are three men friends – two middle-aged, one elderly – in contemporary England. The elderly man and one of the others – both Jewish – are widowers; the third one’s divorced. The divorced man’s not Jewish – but, tantalizingly, he’d like to be. Of the two Jews, one’s anti-Zionist (and thus a member of the small group called ASHamed Jews); and the other’s too old, tired, and tormented by his wife’s death to care. Confused? Well you may be. But if so, that’s my fault and not Jacobson’s. The story traces a period in the three friends’ intersecting lives, set against a background of trenchant anti-Semitism masquerading (as it’s wont to be) as anti-Zionism. (The book’s title derives from the surname of the younger Jewish friend, which causes his non-Jewish friend to call all Jews ‘Finklers’.) Thus its issues are topical, controversial and therefore challenging. But despite this, I found The Finkler Question disappointing. Its writing’s competent but not remarkable. And though Jacobson develops his characters well, I reckon a first class novel – one that wins its writer a Booker – needs to rise above the pack. And, quite simply, I can’t say this one does. Pity.

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