The finkler question book review
The Finkler Question by Howard JacobsonJulian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, theyve never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, a Czechoslovakian always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results. Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libors grand, central London apartment. Its a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you had less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends losses. And its that very evening, at exactly 11:30pm, as Treslove hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country as he walks home, that he is attacked. After this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.
Member of the Tribe
Julian Treslove is having an identity crisis. As the novel opens, Julian, 49, has left a dinner with his old school friend Sam Finkler and their one-time teacher, Libor Sevick. The minute you talked about the Finkler Question , say, or the Finklerish Conspiracy , you sucked out the toxins. But he was never quite able to get around to explaining this to Finkler himself. This duality is likely to either strike readers as an amusing way to toy with stereotypes, or a vaguely offensive stereotyping itself. His identity, his vocation, his sons, their mothers — nothing sticks. And strangely sympathetic.
Howard Jacobson's novel-before-last, Kalooki Nights , was a wonderful surprise - a torrential comedy of ideas and impressions set in Manchester in the s and London in the present day, concerned with the psychic and psychosexual effect of the pogroms and death camps on English Jews, and constructed from passages of exact and agile prose. His new novel, though by no means a negligible work, discomforts the reader with uncertain descriptions, callous sarcasms and failed gags. Strange turns are likely, perhaps inevitable, in the career of any hard-working novelist, but rarely do they defy explanation. Julian Treslove, a year-old bachelor, cowardly and blandly good-looking, envies the suffering tribal and historical, personal and recent of his Jewish widower friends: year-old Libor Sevick, one-time intimate to the stars, and his school chum Sam Finkler, a higher guru of the de Botton stripe. Wandering late at night, Treslove is mugged by a woman, but he believes the attack to be racially rather than sexually motivated, a case of mistaken ethnic identity. Treslove becomes interested in Jewish teachings and customs, the irony being that he is spurred in this direction only by an experience of anti-Semitic violence.
The problem might be put like this. There is comedy, and then there is something called the Comic Novel, and these are related to each other rather as the year is related to a pocket diary—the latter a meaner, tidier, simpler version of the former. Comedy is the angle at which most of us see the world, the way that our very light is filtered. The novel is, by and large, a secular, comic form: one can be suspicious of any serious novelist who seems entirely immune to the comic. The Comic Novel might imagine itself descended from Cervantes and Fielding, but it is really the stunted offspring of Waugh and Wodehouse, lacking the magic of either. In the work of English comic writers like David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury, and Tom Sharpe, there is, too often, a tiresome need to be always seen to be funny.
F laubert once wrote to Turgenev: "Never have things of the spirit counted for so little. Never has hatred for everything great been so manifest — disdain for beauty, execration of literature. I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it. But all the same, so weary, stale, flat and unprofitable seems the mood of the publishing industry at the moment, and so swollen and celebrated seems the appetite for the ill-bound crapola of the departure lounges, that it is tempting — after reading something as fine as The Finkler Question — not to bother reviewing it in any meaningful sense but simply to urge you to put down this paper and go and buy as many copies as you can carry. But let's press on for now.