October 14, 2010

Howard Jacobson's Booker winning book

When I read Howard Jacobson's own reviews of his book, The Finkler Question, I thought it looked like an exercise in bullying Jews that criticise Israel. It's a funny thing that most of the reviews I saw that praised the book (and I only saw one that didn't) didn't mention the Israel thing at all. Deborah Maccoby noticed the same thing about the reviews in her own review at Amazon:
I think I should start by declaring an interest. I am a member of the Executive Committee of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, which seems to be one of the groups that Jacobson is targeting in "The Finkler Question". I agree with an earlier reviewer that, though some of the novel is indeed entertaining and complex, the parts about the "ASHamed Jews" (which are actually a major part of the book, though many reviewers don't mention them) are crude political propaganda - which is surely very detrimental to a work of fiction - rather than satire. Of course I am politically biased against the book, but it is such blatant political propaganda that it calls for a political response.

First of all, all these groups, including openly anti-Zionist groups such as JAZ (Jews Against Zionism) (JfJfP is not an anti-Zionist group) reject entirely the label imposed on us all by Jacobson that we feel "ashamed" of being Jewish - on the contrary, we are asserting a universalist and prophetic Jewish identity of which we are proud and which this book repudiates.

I think true satire should contain some compassion and understanding for the characters, rather than the over-the-top caricature in which Jacobson indulges. For instance, there's a founder-member of the ASHamed Jews who is obsessed with the fact that he is circumcised. and spends his whole life sitting naked on a chair pulling at what remains of his foreskin in an attempt to lengthen it and reverse the circumcision - he does this all morning and then spends the rest of the day writing about his efforts on his blog and posting video and photos of his attempts on his blog.

The book can be very inconsistent and illogical. At one point two non-Jewish characters are discussing the "ASHamed Jews" in a very puzzled way, asking why Jews living in Britain should be ashamed of Israel's actions, which have nothing to do with them - then later on, at an "ASHamed Jews" meeting, Finkler objects to the idea of a boycott of Israel, saying Israel is their "family" and "you don't boycott your family". So here it is clear that Jews ARE very much associated with Israel.

During Operation Cast Lead,, the author writes of Finkler (with evident approval) "Gaza didn't do it for him" and Finkler doesn't understand why Israel's response is called "disproportionate". I've just been reading Gideon Levy's recent book "The Punishment of Gaza", containing articles demonstrating his anguish over the atrocities committed during Cast Lead, and to read Jacobson after that is truly appalling. I suggest that everyone who has lauded this novel reads Gideon Levy's book. As I've said above, if a novelist decides to spoil his novel by including large chunks of political propaganda, then he issues an open invitation for his work to be judged in political terms.

Other reviews on the same Amazon page mention the misogyny that I have heard mentioned a couple of times now. In fairness, Jacobson's misogyny doesn't seem to be a product of his zionism so perhaps that's why Deborah didn't mention it. This book is a "treat" in store for me as a friend is going to lend me his copy but I can't help feeling, even hoping, that some of the rave reviewers are going to regret their words by the time the paperback comes out.

Some people worry about buying books by writers they disapprove of so they go to the library. Unfortunately, that also generates income for the author. If you must read this book then the best thing to do is to borrow it from someone who has already bought it or wait until it appears in the second hand bookshops. I'm not sure what becomes of the money when they stack'em high and sell them for a pound. Of course a lot of people will have read Howard Jacobson's patronising and manipulative writing in The Independent and will wonder how such a person can win a Booker. Well I've heard that he has written the kind of stuff that could be worthy of a Booker but that this latest offering isn't of that kind. It's also true to say that many critics have said that last year's Booker shortlistees were all undeserving. There's no accounting for taste but the taste of a committee is a different thing from the taste of one consumer. It looks to me that the Booker people are happy to have colluded with a nasty piece of political bullying by just another purveyor of false charges of self-hatred and antisemitism. That's why I really ought to read the book. I know it's going to be bad and I know it's going to be heavy going. But it's got to be done. Vey iz mir...


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