Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Finkler Question

Title: The Finkler Question

Author: Howard Jacobson

Number of pages: 320

Started: 7 October 2010

Finished: 14 October 2010

Opening words:

He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one.

He was a man who saw things coming. Not shadowy premonitions before and after sleep, but real and present dangers in the daylit world. Lamp posts and trees reared up at him, splintering his shins. Speeding cars lost control and rode on to the footpath leaving him lying in a pile of torn tissue and mangled bones. Sharp objects dropped from scaffolding and pierced his skull.

Women worst of all. When a woman of the sort Julian Treslove found beautiful crossed his path it wasn’t his body that took the force but his mind. She shattered his calm.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

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 a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment.

It’s a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends’ losses.

And it’s that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

What I thought:

This was certainly one of the more readable Booker offerings, as far as I was concerned. It felt rather more accessible that some of the other offerings. But it is a book that will divide opinions. It did not strike me as a book that was going to set the world on fire, but I thought it was perfectly readable. Someone I work with found the book so unreadable that she gave up on it about a third of the way through and refused to continue with it despite some coaxing to do so. She found it too “Jewish”. She had no problem with reading a book that had a Jewish theme to it, but she did feel that she was excluded from following what the book was really about, and that there was perhaps some joke that she was missing out on.

This book actually won the Booker. I can’t say that I think it was a great choice. I think for some it will confirm that such prizes are for very “worthy” books, but for others perhaps they will see more to the book or at least find they can read it to the end without it driving them mad.

This is one of the Booker shortlist books that I have preferred, but I don’t really see it as having a quality that cried out to me that it should win a prize. Readable, but no more noteworthy than that to my mind.


Kahless said...

Ever thought of reading and reviewing a trashy novel!

Random Reflections said...

Kahless - Your comment really made me laugh. I take your point - one day I might even surprise you!