The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson)

On Tuesday 27th September 2011, we held our first staff reading group meeting and our book choice for the inaugural meeting was Howard Jacobson’s 2010 Man Booker Prize-winning novel The Finkler Question.  Here’s the synopsis:

“Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik. Both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and together with Treslove they share a sweetly painful evening revisiting a time before they had loved and lost. It is that very evening, when Treslove hesitates a moment as he walks home, that he is attacked – and his whole sense of who and what he is slowly and ineluctably changes.”  NielsenBookDataOnline

Review: ‘How is it possible to read Howard Jacobson and not lose oneself in admiration for the music of his language, the power of his characterisation and the penetration of his insight? … The Finkler Question is further proof, if any was needed, of Jacobson’s mastery of humour’ The Times Wonderful … Jacobson is seriously on form’ Evening Standard ‘There are few writers who exhibit the same unawed respect for language or such a relentless commitment to re-examining even the most seemingly unobjectionable of received wisdoms’ Daily Telegraph ‘Full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding. It is also beautifully written with that sophisticated and near invisible skill of the authentic writer’ Observer NielsenBookDataOnline

Whilst no member of the group doubted Jacobson’s skill in engaging the reader with his prose, generally the group consensus was that the book’s protagonist, Julian Treslove, was a weak, insignificant man who showed very few redeeming elements to his character and that he was a self-obsessed character whom nobody in the group could like!  He was clearly in love with the idea of being and becoming Jewish without being willing to make the commitment to convert to Judaism and seemed to want simply to become absorbed into Jewish culture…  Despite the fact that nobody stood out as liking the book, we nonetheless had a good talk and went on to think about the nature of literary prizes and what the judges look for in deciding upon a winner.