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If a book was supposed to be written by a particular author; 'The Finkler Question' unquestionably was meant to be written by Howard Jacobson, who's critical peruses can be read in the Independent. Jacobson was a 'Man Booker' winner in 2010 with this book 'The Finkler Question'; a reward for avant-garde literature that stands tall above the rest. Of course with Jacobson being Jewish enabled him an unwritten license to use the word 'Finkler' which translates to 'Jew' - any non-Jewish author wouldn't have the right or would be given so much acclaim by touching on the subject let alone questioning its fundamental values in the twenty-first century. What is Jewishness? My mind filters back to Salman Rushdie's 'Satanic Verses' published book in 1988 and despicable treatment he endured in the aftermath of its publication - it endorsed serious death threats, multiples of round-the-clock protection teams deployed to keep alive 'one' man; an author! At the time Rushdie was the most hated man on the planet - perhaps the book 'Satanic Verses' was a question of bad timing and 'The Finkler Question' was a question of good timing; in either case you can't have a bigger divide in response / reaction to each publication. It makes you question humanity not just faith, (Jewishness) - 'The Finkler Question' has the covetous mustard to do both.
Jacobson's lack of verbosity is evident in his weekly articles, the same goes with writing novels. Maybe a lot to do with F R Leavis his English Lecturer at Cambridge - a sharp, to-the-point literature critic who'd influenced young Howard, for the good, allegedly. What engaged me to Jacobson is his clever use of converse it is attention grabbing, it draws you in - for example:
"Please don't leave. If I wasn't a rock before, I will be a rock from now on."
"You won't. It isn't in your nature."
"Don't I look after you when you're ill?"
"You do, you're marvelous to me when I'm ill. It's when I'm well you're of no use."
The dialogue depicts the mood, an unquestionable dose of reality, their characterization's stripped for all to read, warts and all. Real people and the characters emulate this in Sam Finkler - the admired self-made man of Jewish Philosophy - Then there is Julian Treslove, who subsequently is a non-Jew, who once was a BBC radio producer and now full-time celebrity look-a-like - marooned into superficial-dom or town; well it is the same place or thing - he makes a living being like them. Also there is Libor Sevcik an aging Hollywood journo struck by bereavement due to the death of his adorable wife of six decades - A true love that never fades, vibrant and butterfly-bellied as a youth's first-time experience of love. 'The Finkler Question' dismisses the notion made about senior citizens that their feelings and desires are diminished under the husks of confused recollections blurred by passages of time, this is far from the truth. The terrible thing about old age is, you recount your heyday better than yesterday, and there is no release in longing for it back - deemed as more of an entrapment of what has gone, and therefore an incessant reminder of who has gone. 'Terrible yet wonderful' - and this leads me on to the saddened reality that 'The Finkler Question' was dedicated to three friends of Jacobson who died in 2009, he stated they were; 'the givers of laughter.'
A dawning that Jacobson's 'The Finkler Question' is a type of anecdotal compromise of what has transcended - a realistic portrait of twentieth and twenty-first century Semitism, the problem of Yiddish - a so-called converse seen as demonic, a dilution of language use subsequently watered down Jewishness, was systematic realism, devised to help integrate Jews into new homelands. Generations on, you see the bigger picture; 'The Finkler Question' only magnifies that reality. Treslove's uncompromising obsession to get to the bottom of Sam Finkler's Jewish Philosophy - by any means represents the immoral aspects of how anti-Semitism has encroached on Jewish lives almost as a default mechanism, his blatant contempt for Finkler the person by name and what he stands for, - even the Semites disengage to the horrors of modern day Jewish de-franchise. Dying traits such as Libor's pro 'Isrrrrae' (Jacobson's over insinuated accent whenever Libor converses on Israel) a vocal demonstration by adding a fourth 'r' to irritate Finkler out of pathos. Yes, his wife Tyler who has her own inner humiliations goes to her grave - too late to be saved. Of course, shades of Orpheus, a somewhat theatrical triumphant trumpet hoot somehow drowns the sorrow - moments of tenderness of great loss comes in the form of wardrobe elegant attires - hand-picked to show-off her beauty; such loveliness never lasts long enough. 'The Finkler Question' could so easy be a play - stylishly questionable and anecdotal, without too much on stage at one time - a sixteenth century playwright floods to mind, not forgetting the gentle melodic strumming and a smoke ring floating and gradually turning into oblivion - the symbolism starkly replicating Jewish-ness.
The comedic filter purely rests with Tresloves wannabe Jew quests - delving into trysts of the unmentionable kind getting more than he bargained. The others are the cake mix to his scrawny cherry - each devoutly true to stereotypical Semite; Judaism too although for me deity has little to offer in this book - however, it certainly makes for a fascinating debate regardless what fence you're sitting on - Arab or Israel rhetoric. The book is neither political as it is about humankind craving to fit into European, American, South American, North African societies. As Sam Finkler's Jewish Philosophy snaps into a fashionably accepting light - he finds a deeper divide in the group he's known for years while joining ASHamed... Ashamed at Israel. By deliberating over its Philosophy - his questioning has no bearing on being Jewish, or honing in on Judaism any longer, but instead steps inline as if a global consensus - and that affects us all.
Tyler, Finkler's wife as portrayed in this book has the intellect and mindfulness to turn heads; beauty on its own is only short-lived, if intellect wanes -'The Finkler Question' continues...to ask questions, of what it means to be a Jew.
Written with a political and social agenda of its own accord. Highly recommended.©1st2thebar 2014
The Finkler Question is a novel written by British author Howard Jacobson. The novel won the Man Booker Prize in 2010. It is defined as a comedy.
I was given this book, so not knowing anything about it, I first researched it online before deciding whether or not to invest my time in actually reading it. Though The Finkler Question is advertised as winning some literary prize or other, the novel has an extremely low consumer rating on Amazon, both in comparison to other Man Booker Prize winners and other books in general. The disparity between critical and commercial appeal piqued my interest enough that I read it.
The Finkler Question introduces Julian Treslove as our protagonist: to put it bluntly, yet another a middle-aged failure of a man. Treslove's life has been professionally unspectacular. His career with the BBC ended unhappily when he was fired for being essentially useless. Treslove's personal life has hardly been smooth-sailing either. Just as some people chain-smoke, Julian Treslove is a serial adulterer. Ultimately, this behavior has left him a bachelor with two adult sons by different mothers, who he has no interest in at all. Perhaps his life would be totally hollow and unfulfilled if it weren't for his lifelong friendship with two other men.
One of them, Sam Finkler, had been Treslove's childhood friend and school-mate. The other man, known only as Libor, had been their teacher at some point but has now retired to be alone with his memories. Despite their age and circumstances, Libor and Finkler both have two specific traits that Treslove is unerringly vocal in his envy towards: they are both Jewish and they are both widowers.
Thus, after some unforeseen circumstances arise, Treslove begins a journey to change himself. This journey is one to become a Jew.
Like most people, I try to never pass up an opportunity to talk about myself. I am not Jewish, though I have a passive interest in the culture of niddah, Kosher, and Kabbalah. Therefore, as a Gentile (or a goy, if you want to be blunt about it), I consider myself to be rather receptive to what Jacobson has tried to do in this novel. In other words, my main point of contention with The Finkler Question is not its contents, but its style.
One huge blemish on the book is the characters. Personally, I have plenty of people I dislike. Fortunately, I don't have to read books about them - except when it comes to Julian Treslove. Treslove may not be Anna Kendrick (I just don't like her), but he does happen to be a genuinely unlikable individual. Not to say the character of Treslove is unrealistically portrayed - he's almost hyper-realistic, that's the problem. He is a selfish, melodramatic and boring individual who (in the words of another character) seeks to suck out depression from other people and make it his own. One of the golden rules of fiction is to make your protagonist likable, to create an empathetic connection. Jacobson fails to do this. As a reader, this left me unable to care if Treslove lived or died.
Similarly, most of the other characters are annoying or dull. His friend Finkler is an especially reprehensible person; it is suggested that his many extra-marital affairs contributed to the early death of his wife. Unfortunately, Finkler is almost a second protagonist, and his story is told concurrently with Treslove's. Finkler is one of those "blokes on the telly": a popular writer and spokesperson for a group called the Ashamed Jews. The Ashamed Jews are a group of famous Jewish people who morally oppose Israel's military involvement in Gaza. Though set in London, the problem of Palestine is the crux of all the novel's action. The conflict of the Israeli-Palestinian war has direct repercussions in the lives of the novel's characters.
Though it is described as a comedy, The Finkler Question is an angry, sullen and at times depressing piece of writing. The best part of the novel is in the handling of Palestine/Israel as a topic. This is where Jacobson finally proves himself a capable writer. Several excerpts and conclusions drawn from the novel are extremely insightful and the overall conclusion drawn (if you can call it that) is well balanced. This is what leads me to say that The Finkler Question is ultimately a very hard-hitting essay trapped in a mediocre novel.
From my elucidations above, you may be forgiven for thinking I disdain Jacobson as a writer. However, that's somewhat erroneous. Jacobson is not a stupid writer. In fact, he is rather clever, if you can stomach it. The Finkler Question is well engineered. The character of Treslove seems to appeal to the panel judges of whatever literary prize by design; artistic, melancholic, unfulfilled, yearning for some higher cause. Likewise, the near-constant name-dropping of operas and academies, as well as allusions to upper-middle-class life in London, also appear to be nothing but flattery towards some vague intended audience.
And of course, this was all a success; the novel did win the Man Booker Prize. Unfortunately, I don't feel this had the intended effect of spreading Jacobson's message, which is what I think the author was trying to do. Conversely, it seems to have coloured people's opinions an even more negative shade of grey, by alienating and irritating the average reader and fetishising the very "Jewishness" Jacobson was trying to defend.
One character in The Finkler Question describes the problem of Israel and Palestine - in particular the constant revenge killings - as engendering a social environment in the West where it is not only acceptable to condemn the Jews, but to nurture anti-Semitism in its purest form. Sadly, despite the occasional brilliance of The Finkler Question, I don't think the novel has helped to highlight the imminent danger of this thinking at all.
Price: £3.86 + FREE delivery; £0.01 + £2.80 delivery
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (3 May 2011)
The Finkler Question is a curious book - I initially pigeonholed it under 'male midlife crisis'. It was a surprise birthday gift from my Aunt, and initially I was quite shocked since it contains strong language and quite graphic bedroom scenes. Not the sort of book that I'd have expected her to send. I persevered through the shock though, as there was something about he character development about a quarter of the way through that made me suspect that there was more to this book than at first met the eye.
As a sweeping generalisation, this book is about the self-identity of a small group of fictional British Jewish intellectuals in London, and their gentile friend. It centres on three main characters - Libor Sevcik, recently a widower at 89; Sam Finkler (also recently a widower)and Julian Treslove (just single) who are both ex-pupils of Libor. The older man still maintains Jewish traditions and talks reverentially about his "Issrrae". Sam has turned his back on his heritage and supports the Palestinians almost out of spite for his own background. Julian the gentile is a man who has always been somewhat adrift - eternal student, producer of obscure late night programmes on Radio 3, and now a 'hire-a-lookalike' man, due to his similarity in appearance to several celebrities. The title of the book refers to Julian's strange decision to refer to all Jews as Finklers, after his friend, as he felt it would be less offensive. The 'question' part I shall leave you to discover for yourselves!
The widowers' late wives and Julian's women are all part of the story too, told in flashbacks and confessionals. Julian also meets the woman of his destiny in Hephzibah, Libor's great-niece, and it is this relationship that eventually allows him to work out his place in his own world, a process that it begun when he is mugged on his way home from Libor's apartment one evening, and that has far-reaching and catalysing consequences not just for him but for all of those around him.
What struck me increasingly as I was reading, and more so as I came to the end, is the way that Jacobsen gradually wove in a growing awareness of anti-Semitism (the hatred and persecution of Jews). The characters eventually found the news unavoidable that Jews around the world were being targeted in revenge attacks for Israel's actions against the Palestinians. (This sadly was very topical as I read, since the news broke about the shootings at the Jewish school in Toulouse, with the gunman claiming that he was "avenging Palestinian children".) For this particular group of people, you get the feeling that these issues are far away from their normal existence - none of them is devoutly religious, and the traditions that they retain are largely cultural. In fact, the devoutly religious Jewish community are given short shrift by the author and always referred to dismissively as the Zionists, and portrayed as disruptive and overly superior. However, the author does not take sides or preach a political message. He seems to want to make his cast aware, and through them, us, of what is going on outside of Israel, and that the Palestinian conflict is by no means confined to the Middle East .
And then you have Julian Treslove in the middle of all this, the unknowing catalyst of many of the other characters' revelatory moments, as he navigates and blunders his way through his own identity crisis, making surprising decisions, unwanted confessions, and ultimately reaching a conclusion that leaves his friends with more unanswered questions. I found myself wanting to re-read this book again straight away, to try to understand better what had just happened. I have held off until I'd got this written down though, as I know that it will now in a sense be a different story, knowing better what his character is like.
What started for me as a slightly irritating view into intellectual men's personal crises and political debate turned slowly, subtly into a study, full of pathos, of a micro-section of a nation in exile struggling to come to terms with world (and very personal) events imposing themselves on their comfortable circumstances, and the genuine pain that resulted. There is a great deal of humour along the way too, much of it darkly ironic. I suspect I'll 'get' a lot more of it when I re-read it - Jacobsen was a new author to me so it took me a little while to get into his style of writing, but eventually I found it a captivating story and genuinely can't wait to re-read it. So please take that as a hearty recommendation!
About the author - Howard Jacobsen was born in Manchester, has been a University lecturer, and has been writing since the early '80s. He has won several major literary awards, including one for this book, which won the MAN Booker prize in 2010. He has also been a columnist for the Independent (in fact if you Google about a bit you can find one from 2009 which directly relates to some of the things covered in this book regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict), and has written and presented several television documentaries.
My copy is the paperback version, published by Bloomsbury with an RRP of 7.99, but I suspect that it can be had for less from the usual online suppliers.