Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Howard Jacobson's The Finkler question

Written by Sylvia ...


Howard Jacobson's The Finkler question,
Courtesy: Bloomsbury.
A very pleasant evening at Helen's was had discussing a book which intrigued and challenged many of us not 'in the club'.  The level of ignorance about all things Jewish ranged from complete ignorance to full knowledge. Thank goodness for our wonderful members who have a more cosmopolitan background!

The Finkler question, by English writer Howard Jacobson, is the story of an Englishman, Julian Treslove (Fr. 'very love' ?) who lives in London.  He wants to be Jewish and find true love and the girl of his dreams. He is utterly obsessed by his two Jewish friends, Sam Finkler  and Libor Sevcik (a Czech Jew) and their whole way of looking at the world and their culture. Later in the book he falls in love with Hephzibah, Libor's neice, but although she is perfect he wants more -- too much more even for her. He wants to 'consume' her and in fact ends up making her completely miserable. He is a pathetic character (to some of us ) in that his endeavours to join in the life of his friends always ends in disaster and makes him more miserable and egocentric. He is a terrible father with little or no interest in his sons and even less empathy. He is a terrible de facto husband to the mothers of his sons for the same reasons.  

There is a lot of philosophy and polemic in this novel. However, the tone is lifted by the clever and repetitive repartee from the main antagonists. According to our 'knowledgeable one' the book is true to Jewish dialogue, and thought patterns and humour. And it contains masses of humour if you read it carefully. Jacobson knows what he is describing and knows the long and winding conversations which can be very funny and very typical. The use of Yiddish is good because there are some Yiddish words which are not translatable into English, and they add to the sense of craziness or hilarity at times (eg Nebissh.)

The talk also ranged over some of the topics discussed by the main characters -- sex (a constant thread), the Palestinian state and the ASHamed Jews' viewpoint.

It was not decided what the main point of the book is -- is it just a chance to laugh with and at Jews or is it a spoof of their interminable conversations. Or is it something else entirely? It is ironic and it is a fabulous comedy for those who understand it. Did it deserve to win the Man Booker -- we didn't decide ?

... and then Sylvia throws down the gauntlet: "Maybe others can add to this, contest or whatever!", she says. So, go for it Minervans.

5 comments:

  1. Great Sylvia, and I didn't even see you taking notes! The only things I can add, would be that we wondered whether Jacobsen himself was Treslove, Finkler or neither, that the book seemed to be about all the different ways you can experience being Jewish, and that Finkler's wife Tyler seemed to hold a key to what the author had to say. In view of the last point I'll have to read the last third of the book to find out!

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  2. I purchased this recently and I am looking forward to reading it. I had heard some people comment that it was difficult to identify with for a non-Jewish person, and it interests me to see if this is the case or not.

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  3. I'm not Jewish, Becky, but I spent quite a lot of time with Jewish people in my teens and twenties so that may make my reaction different. I loved its evocation of Jewish life/culture ...

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  4. Interesting. I do want to read this book. Last year I reviewed Whatever it is, I don't like it, by Jacobsen; it's a collection of his columns published in the Independent. I loved it, one of my best books for the year; witty, urbane, eloquent, subversive, and always interesting and fresh. It's a perfect bedtime book, because none of the articles are more than 3 pages, so you can read, be refreshed, and nod off. when I closed the book, I thought I'd like to take the author home, though I think he might be a bit hard to handle.

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  5. Sounds perfect Christina ... I like books like that for bedtime. I think you might be right about taking him home though!

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