Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Book # 3 The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question

As an avid reader its almost obligatory to make sure you read the latest Booker Prize winner. In the past I have struggled with their choices. I never "got  into" Life Of Pi, or The God Of Small Things or Vernon God Little but last year Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel blew me away. I absolutely loved it from start to finish and its storyline dovetailed in nicely to my love/hate relationship with Phillipa Gregory's royal dynasty novels, the quantity of which is plenty, the quality of which goes up and down.

Prior to reading The Finkler Question I had already read Room by Emma Donoghue one of the losing novels, and was divided in my opinion of it, whilst it was a compelling read, a true "page-turner", I had a constant nagging question in my mind about whether it wasn't slightly exploitative of the true life stories of the Fritzl family & of Natascha Kampusch from whose experience the genesis of the idea of the novel clearly comes. So, for me, Room wasn't a winner, would I agree with their choice of the Jacobson?

Julian Treslove is the novels hero or rather anti-hero, having led rather a mediocre life in which he has been successful neither professionally or in his personal life, being able to woo women but not being able to sustain a relationship.

He regularly meets and dines with his old school friend Sam Finkler and their former teacher Libor when one night he is mugged after leaving Libor's house. His attacker is a woman, something which later causes his sons much mirth, but during the attack he first thinks she knows him as she seems to use his name, but then he realises she has called him a Jew.

The attack serves to send Julian on something of a quest, could he be Jewish? Did the woman recognise something elemental in him?

Both Libor and Finkler are Jewish, and in his mind Julian has always felt something of an outsider feeling unable by his lack of Jewishness to contribute to conversations which relate to Jewish history or more modern issues facing Israel etc .

Finkler a Jewish man uncomfortable with his identity to the extent that he labels himself an Ashamed Jew, comes to represent all Jews for Treslove thus The Jewish Question becomes "The Finkler Question" & Jews become "Finklers"

This is supposed to be a comic novel thats how its billed, but personally I find a lot of pathos in it particularly for Julian, a man who has grown up in his friend Finkler's shadow, and is searching for an identity of his own.

He begins a relationship with Hephzibah, a Jewish woman which at first seems a positive step.  It is here in a conversation between Finkler & Hephzibah that I find myself being able to identify personally with the novel. I've tried to relocate it in the book and i can't. Essentially, Hephzibah says something about the impact of being Jewish on her identity and outlook, and raised Catholic I found myself entirely agreeing with the essence of her experience and point by substituting the word Jew for Catholic, and what is like to be a Catholic.
Julian Treslove spends the novel going about pointing out how "Finklers" are other than him and how he will never get it right with them. The message that I took from the book, is that it is Julian himself who is other and different and not the community with which he becomes obsessed.

Is it funny? Not to me no. Is it strange? Yes! Is it worth reading? Maybe, but I will be in no rush to recommend it, having read so much there are books which always spring to mind when someone asks for a recommendation & I doubt The Finkler Question will ever be among them. Is it worthy of the Booker? I don't know, I haven't read C, The Long Song or that other one yet! 6 or 7/10

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