Friday, November 19, 2010

The Finkler Question

I have a question: can you still call this a comic novel if there are no laughs? Actually I rarely even smiled. Admittedly I read this book in poor circumstances: on the red eye from Tokyo to Melbourne, but even so this felt less like a novel and more like a parade of lame, rather old fashioned observations about Americans, British Jews, lefties, the BBC etc. that might have been edgy in say 1983 but which I found toe curlingly embarrassing in 2010. It doesn't work as a comic novel because Howard Jacobson does not deliver on the funny. Neither his puns nor his comedic situations nor his dialogue made me laugh. But if its not a comedy what is it? The caricatures in this book carry no moral force or seriousness, they do not entertain or instruct or make us think. The book is basically about a circle of Jewish and wannabe Jewish friends in North London who discuss life, love and philosophy but I really should emphasise that this is an overly generous description. The paper thin characters talk and act like silly, not too bright students after their first hit of Moroccan black. They babble and moan and babble some more. This quickly becomes tiresome. Eventually most of us grow out of our pointless verbosity and narcissism. Children (not necessarily our own) make us grow up; but a certain strata of the English middle and upper classes farm their children out to various grim agoge and thus remain in a retarded state of adolescence for their entire life. Why would anyone care what these kind of people say or do? I wasn't interested when Iris Murdoch was telling us about them and Howard Jacobson aint no Iris Murdoch.
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He aint no Philip Roth or Saul Bellow either. In fact I can only imagine that this book won the Booker Prize because the jury hadn't read any Roth, Bellow or even Michael Chabon. Jacobson lacks their depth and acerbity and yeah he lacks their jokes too.
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Which brings me to my wider point - what the hell has happened to British fiction? The Finkler Question is the best they can do? Hampstead table talk and gossip slow cooked for 315 pages? Really? The Finkler Question, Wolf Hall, that's where you want to go? Vay iz meer, bubelah, vay iz meer.