‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobsen


320 p. 2010

It’s an odd coincidence that the books chosen over the course of a year by my face-to-face reading group often end up having a common theme.   We send in a list of about 40 possible titles, and yet somehow or other there are often connections between the eleven that actually land in our laps. It seemed that one year we read a succession of Asian family-history stories spread over three generations (oh, please spare me another of  those!) and this year we seemed to have stumbled onto a Jewish theme.  One book, Lily Brett’s You’ve Got to Have Balls annoyed me and I was relieved to find that I couldn’t attend the meeting and promptly ditched it.  The second The Full Catastrophe, I enjoyed.  And now this third book The Finkler Question.

It won the 2010 Man Booker Prize.  What was it up against?  Hmm. A Carey, Emma Donoghue’s Room, Damon Galgut, Andrea Levy- I think I like her, and Tom McCarthy’s C. Well, I’ve heard of two of them (Parrot and Olivier in America and Room)  and the longlist had The Slap and a Rose Tremain book as well.  If I’d written any of these books, I’d be pretty annoyed. I really didn’t enjoy this book much at all.

The “Finkler” Question is actually the “Jewish Question”, posed by the protagonist Julian Treslove, retired BBC employee now working as a celebrity impersonator, who decides that after he was mugged by a female assailant who hissed “You Jew” at him (or at least, he thinks that’s what she said) that he really must be Jewish and just didn’t know it before.  And off it goes into a long conversation about Jewishness and Jewish self-loathing and anti-Semitism- on and on it goes; talk, talk, talk.  It’s a bit like reading a British Woody Allen, and I don’t really like him much either.  I find the language overwhelming, and the self-absorption tedious.  This book is promoted as a comic novel, but I barely found anything more than mildly humorous in it.

I don’t know what the other contenders were like, but I sure wouldn’t be awarding it the Booker Prize.

My rating: 6/10

Read because:

Sourced from: Council of Adult Education.

3 responses to “‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobsen

  1. Ah RJ, my group did this last year and most were quite bemused/mystified by it, but I found it pretty funny … in fact as I sit here typing this I am starting to chuckle about “d’you know Juno”. I read that little exchange to my family in the car. There’s something about Jewish humour that I find fascinating. I wrote a review if you are interested, and is you are interested in my reading group’s one, just click on Minerva Reads in my blog roll and you should be able to search for it.

  2. Pingback: ‘The Long Song’ by Andrea Levy | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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