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Cassie

The Finkler Question

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Has anyone read this? I'm struggling with it at the moment, and only continuing with it because it is a book group read; otherwise I would have abandoned it. I find it funny in parts but it hasn't grabbed me enough to make me want to pick it up again. Any thoughts on whether you like it or not would be appreciated.

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Has anyone read this? I'm struggling with it at the moment, and only continuing with it because it is a book group read; otherwise I would have abandoned it. I find it funny in parts but it hasn't grabbed me enough to make me want to pick it up again. Any thoughts on whether you like it or not would be appreciated.
Cassie, I couldn't get on with this book at all. It brought a faint smile to my lips once or twice, but the novel bored / annoyed / enraged me the rest of the time. There is only a page and a half of good writing worth the Booker prize accolade. I'm Jewish myself but couldn't recognise myself, my family, my friends or anyone else Jewish I have ever met. The caricatures of left-leaning Jews were particularly pernicious and NOT FUNNY. The only person I could recognise was Howard Jacobsen - I think the book is all about himself, all the characters are him and if I were you I would abandon it immediately :)

 

(not that I've strong views on this book, or anything ;))

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I haven't attempted this book because both of your descriptions conjure up my previous experiences with Jacobson. The last book of his I read was Kalooki Nights and I actually got on better with that then with previous books of his that I'd attempted but I still found it annoying in several ways, mainly because it kept going off on tangents which frustrated me, but also because I never found it as funny as Jacobson obviously did. I also felt there was a slight scent of misogyny about it - the dismissive way Jacobson dealt with female characters; the way the protagonist seemed drawn to only beautiful women with umglauts in their name who all seemed interchangeable. I felt like asking him 'do you actually like women or just sex?' Perhaps that was unfair of me: I read and love the writing of Martin Amis, whose attitude towards women is similarly superficial, but that may be because I find Amis far sharper and more witty.

There were parts of Kalooki Nights that engaged me fully, and I made myself read it to the end, but it didn't whet my appetite for another of his novels.

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Thank you brightphoebus and leya, great to read your observations. I have about 100 pages to go, I think I will just give it a quick scan to the end and that's it. Your Jewish perspective is very much appreciated brightphoebus I did wonder about how heavily caricatured it was, now I know. I don't think I will ever pick up a book by Howard Jacobson again.

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I've quite liked the Jacobson I've read - The Making of Henry and Kalooki Nights[/i, but I wouldn't say I can't wait for this one. I'll probably get the paperback when it comes out, just to see what all the fuss is about.

As for Booker winners in general I'm pretty luke-warm about most. Often its the long listed or short-listed ones that engage me. Maybe it was just time for a Jewish winner or maybe Jacobson had written enough that the judges felt he was 'unjustly neglected.' I think the Amis and Golding Booker winning novels were more 'lifetime achievement awards' than anything to do with the merits ofThe Old Fools or The Paper Man.'

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Just had our book group session on this book. I found it much as Cassie did, and only got to the end because it was for book group. In our group of 5, two of us hated it, 2 absolutely loved it and the third was half way, mostly liking it but understanding why 2 of us didn't.

 

I felt it brought up some interesting ideas on what it means to be Jewish, but wish he'd just written an essay, rather than make us plough through this dull, plotless novel peopled by irritating characters. Funnily enough, it was the women I really liked in the book - the men were all appalling people (perhaps with the exception of Libor - but only perhaps.) The humour was not at all the sparkling wit I'd been led to anticipate and only just alleviated the dullness.

 

All in all, I really wouldn't bother, but it's only fair to reiterate that two good friends would be saying the exact opposite!

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anneliesscott, I will be interested to see how our book group of ladies respond to it, nearly all in their seventies. I will report back next week.

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I have two fairly substantial problems with this novel. The first is that despite Jacobson's insistence that it's a comedy, and his implication that there is something wrong with readers who don't like it (not bright enough to get it, obviously) it's just not enjoyable. It reads like a very long "in" joke, with the in crowd in question being middle aged male Finklers like the author himself.

 

The novel's Finklers are Jews and the Finkler Question is ... you get the point. The second problem i have with the story is with the non-Finkler main character's obsession with Finklerism. Perhaps there are Gentiles obsessed with Judaism but Jacobson's personal obsession with what Jewishness means (his own Finkler Question) is so utterly overwhelming and repetitive and - yes - dull that he is never able to convince me why anyone else would be interested. Or why I should be interested.

 

I responded very warmly to Jacobson's Booker acceptance speech, and I wanted to like this book. But I think books should entertain or inform or ... Something.... And I think Jacobson himself (saying it's a comedy, for instance) is more convincing than his text. I can't judge it absolutely because I'm not old enough or male or Jewish, but for me, it was just a monotonous yawn.

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The novel's Finklers are Jews and the Finkler Question is ... you get the point. The second problem i have with the story is with the non-Finkler main character's obsession with Finklerism. Perhaps there are Gentiles obsessed with Judaism but Jacobson's personal obsession with what Jewishness means (his own Finkler Question) is so utterly overwhelming and repetitive and - yes - dull that he is never able to convince me why anyone else would be interested. Or why I should be interested.
Kimberley's quote beautifully sums up why I've always been wary of reading anything of Jacobson's. Thanks Kimberley, now I know for sure that it's not for me!

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I responded very warmly to Jacobson's Booker acceptance speech, and I wanted to like this book. But I think books should entertain or inform or ... Something.... And I think Jacobson himself (saying it's a comedy, for instance) is more convincing than his text. I can't judge it absolutely because I'm not old enough or male or Jewish, but for me, it was just a monotonous yawn.
This is the only book on the 2010 Booker Longlist that I haven't read and I have no plans to complete the set. I read Kalooki Nights and although at first it had the odd moment of real humour, it just became a relentless onslaught of looking for ways in which Jews were short-changed. Most of these ways seemed petty and imagined. It became very, very boring. To its credit, The Finkler Question is shorter than Kalooki Nights, but I fear that having read the latter, if I were to pick up The Finkler Question it would feel like resuming at page 481 of an 800 page yawn-athon.

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I agree with the comments made.

What strikes me is there are so many fascinating things Jacobson could write about with regard to his religion if he feels compelled to write about Judaism. I know many Holocaust books have already been written but it was a ghastly atrocity on an immense scale and I would read a novel set in that environment. Or if he tackled the Palestine question, where dreadful acts have been carried out by both sides. But dwelling on what it is to be Jewish in a democratic country like the UK in the twenty first century is just not that interesting imo. And I do find his attitude to women off-putting, it's so laddy and boys' clubbish.

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But dwelling on what it is to be Jewish in a democratic country like the UK in the twenty first century is just not that interesting imo. And I do find his attitude to women off-putting, it's so laddy and boys' clubbish.
I hope for your sake you never read any Philip Roth, leyla. I like him a great deal, but it sounds like he might tip you over the edge ;).

 

I've never read Jacobson and despite my religious persuasion and having family in Manchester where I believe many of his novels are set, I've never felt a strong urge to do so. His Booker victory has not changed that. I imagine I'd feel much the same way about his work as bp does, and I've no urge to put that hunch to the test when there's so much else around to read.

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I hope for your sake you never read any Philip Roth, leyla. I like him a great deal, but it sounds like he might tip you over the edge ;).

 

Laughing at this, Grammath. I've read some Roth and am not as keen on him as many. I also find his female characters somewhar two dimensional. But I recognise that he is a very good writer.

 

I've never read Jacobson and despite my religious persuasion and having family in Manchester where I believe many of his novels are set, I've never felt a strong urge to do so. His Booker victory has not changed that. I imagine I'd feel much the same way about his work as bp does, and I've no urge to put that hunch to the test when there's so much else around to read.

 

That's interesting.

 

There was a discussion about Jacobson on the Man Booker forum a while back, and another woman and I both suggested that our tepid attitude to Jacobson when compared with other male writers who also tended to not feature vivid, complex female characters (like Martin Amis, for example), was because basically we find Amis much funnier than Jacobson. A great SOH can make me overlook a lot.

On the other hand, as someone above said, Jacobson did seem warm, likeable and friendly in his Man Booker acceptance speech and also in the BBC Culture Show dedicated to the Man Booker shortlist.

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Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question.

 

Despite the attractive cover and the accompanying blurb, this novel about Jewishness is far from a riveting read. I never trust the encomiums of reviewers, who surely cannot be serious in calling this Booker winner a ‘masterpiece,’ ‘wonderful,’ and ‘brilliant.’ If you know Jacobson, you know what to expect: much agonising over the question of Jewishness, central characters who are self-conscious about their faith or lack of it, plenty of in-jokes about Jewish customs and of course an abundance of tedious puns about ‘Juno,’ ‘d’you know?’ ‘what d’you think?’ and so on. In this case the main character Jewlian or, rather, Julian Treslove (very loved, I don’t think!) is not a Jew, but wishes he were. He admires the social panache and ease of his rich friend Finkler and his rival Jew, Libor, both of whom have opposed views on Zionism.

 

Julian takes revenge on Finkler by making love to his wife while Finkler is out seducing other women. This is the most unconvincing of several attempts that describe Julian’s determination to become accepted by a woman. Julian is a pretty ugly character, child-hating, woman hating and self-hating, impotent socially and sexually, though managing to ‘make love’ to unlikely women who scorn him – and how right they are!

I didn’t care about Julian, Finkler or Libor’s Jewishness and neither, it seems, did they. The problems are all Treslove’s. He’s a man in mourning for a past that didn’t exist, unlike his friends who apparently have genuine sorrows to keep them happy.

 

If Jacobson is, as the Mail on Sunday declares, ‘the greatest novelist working in Britain today,’ there must be a glut of terrible novelists around. As for ‘the music of his language, the power of his characterisation and the penetration of his insight’ found by the reviewer of The Times, all of this passed me by. The characters are thin, mere stock figures, projections of an angry outsider; the language is absurdly colloquial (people are always ‘doing’ or ‘not doing’ God, sex or whatever) as well as being gratuitously pornographic. For me, like so much of the applause showered on ‘award-winners’ the kindly reception accorded The Finkler Question is yet another case of the Emperor’s new clothes. There comes a time when a novelist is replete and ageing but refuses to give up, and he surely deserves a heart-warming send-off such as the Booker prize.

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