This book is the Man Booker Prize of the Year ( 2010) and it is for the first time given to a comic, very funny book since Kingley Amis, which is something , but it is vastly deceiving because we deal with a very serious book about jewishness and what it means to be a jewish intellectual in a western City ( London) with the metaphysical angst pertaining to the feeling of failure. Apparently being jewish it is a problem as such ; it lies in the collective unconscious and is so pregnant in the very soul and character of all jews that long repetitive novels are inevitable : the reader is all the time irritated by the constant harping on the same themes as well as amused by the grotesque scenes enacted by all the caricature - charged characters.They are unbelievable, you want to kick them, but you don't dare because it would be openly anti semitic. Yes, Jacobson is a tough cookie.
« The Finkler Question » is like a Woody Allen movie, after a while you want to scream because the hero or heroes drive you nuts by their contradictions.There are basically three people, three old friends : Finkler , a sucessful jewish intellectual and media personality, Treslove a british BBC Has -been who wants to be jewish , finally their old wise college professor Libor Sevcik , a rather endearing man . They talk and argue all the time , enjoying themselves hugely till the crisis that sets the story in motion : the death of Finkler's and Tibor's wives, thus the sudden disappearance of love and stability in their lives. We meet head on the awful and relentless question haunting also Woody Allen's cinematic world : how to deal with women and wives and how to live without them ? .It is finally the Woman Question we are reading about in this book ,which becomes especially tragic with old Tibor's final and sinister suicide because he no longer can face the remaining of his old age without the presence of his adored wife.Let me point out here that all human lives find a taste of failure in old age, especially in non- religious societies. It is not a specific jewish stain.
There are long and unnecessary sub plots , weighing the tale down,notably the unbelievable love affair of poor Treslove, otherwise a cheap Don Juan type, who falls for the niece of Tibor a large breasted bewitching creature called Hephzibah , who turns out to be the ultimate jewish mother, but is also quite a courageous woman trying to run a Jewish- english museum in an elegant neighborhood of London, whose ouside walls are unfortunately victims of Muslim slurs, tags and insults in a terrorist plagued city.There are other worse crimes described and an ugly political problem adds itself to the existence of our jewish characters, and Finkler appears to be the best equipped to deal with this in the media and the associations he sponsors. It is all very funny , ironic, tremendously ambiguous, since Finkler claims to be anti Zionist and anti jewish himself, but it is also dramatic and infuriating to witness the effects of the real anti -semitic explosions rampant into immigrants- filled London . It is a horror ,quite as inescapable as XXI st century western urban problems, another dangerous pollution so to speak, that colors the Finkler's Question : what is a politically aware Jew to do in these circumstances ?
Yet the main theme of this book to me , is clear : failure . These interesting and gifted men ; so jewish yet so integrated into our cities cultural lives are unable in old age to wrap up their own personal lives : they failed in their own eyes with women, with their kids, in their chosen profession even , and finally in their own long friendship because of an unforgivable dumb sexual treason at the end . Where is Philip Roth finally ? not far away … Is Howard Jacobson really the « Jewish Jane Austen » as he claims to be ? Well, I am not so sure.