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The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

The Man Booker judges chose a comedy novel as a winner and a good choice it was too. At the heart of theFinkler Question are three confused men in mourning. Sam Finkler has lost his wife, Julian Treslove his boyhood friend, a former BBC Radio producer turned celebrity look alike is just lost. And their teacher, Libor Sevcik is also recently widowed and at an advanced age is lost as to his role without his long time wife.

Finkler and Sevcik are Jewish and Treslove wants to be. He has spent his whole live in a string of unsuccessful relationships with women whose names begin with Ju – or Jew, in his fevered and ultra-Romantic imagination. Indeed his name Jewlian Much-love, gives a hint at his desire.The result of his long-time relationship with Sam Finkler is that he privately calls all Jews, Finklers – hence the Finkler Question.

 

The plot is set in motion when Treslove gets mugged after an evening with his friends. The improbably consequence of the event is his conversion to Judaism as he tries to unravel what his female mugger whispered to him in the attack.The dialogue is genuinely funny and often very, very clever. Example: “‘I wonder whether we feel nothing,'” says a main character about Jews, “‘precisely because we rehearse our feelings on the subject too freely and too often?'” “‘Crying Wolfowitz, you mean?'” responds another character, “with a wild laugh.”

Through these men and their associates we are introduced to all the heavy issues of Nazism, anti-semitism, Gaza, circumcision and so on. But it’s never too heavy and always diffused by humour. And all the characters go through changes in their stances. Sam is angry against Israeli attitudes to Palestine and wears his guilt very obviously, but as we meet the cast of characters in the movement we also get a laugh out of the most serious issues.

It’s a wonderful service Jacobson did for this reader, inviting me into this closed world, raising the issues outsiders dare not raise and allowing me to consider them and even maybe change my mind along with the characters.

Beautifully written. Highly recommended.

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