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The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question (edition 2011)

by Howard Jacobson

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1,7251164,104 (3.03)298
Title:The Finkler Question
Authors:Howard Jacobson
Info:Bloomsbury Paperbacks (2011), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:novel, 2012, unfinished

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The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

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English (112)  Dutch (3)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (117)
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)
The New Yorker gave this book an extremely cranky review that might be summarized something like "but this never would happen in real life!" which seems like a rational American take on this very British book. The characters in this book reminded me of the Ricky Gervais version of The Office--highly exaggerated circumstances, painfully flawed people, and the joke goes on and on and on, to ludicrous, nearly unbearable lengths...and all of it really, really funny, once you stop being offended. Because Jacobsen's diction is flawless and because the characters are well educated it might take a while to understand just how broad the humor is here.

At that same time that he is being funny, Jacobson explores from every possible angle many tough, non-funny issues, such as Jewish identity, Zionism, Israel, Anti-Semitism...all things we're not supposed to laugh about. The book is an unlikely mix of the subtle with the caustic that took me off my guard. As you read along you get lulled by the lovely language, and then you think: "wait a minute, is this offensive?...Yes! This is offensive!...only, it's funny!" Over and over again you're taken aback as a reader, and all this course-adjusting as you read works, in turn, to get you to think about your own views on some weighty topics, and to reconsider political opinions that you may have held from some time now without thinking too deeply about them.

Then like the most beautiful music Jacobson deepens the themes just at the point when you are most vulnerable and leaves you devastated by an unexpected ending. I loved it. ( )
  poingu | Mar 3, 2015 |
I'm somewhat lost for words to describe this book. I do not know what I taken away from reading it. I know I now have doubts about the validity of book awards in respect of representing any understanding of what makes for a good book. I know I have an interest in reading more about the Jewish faith.

I certainly know that many other reviews have come to a conclusion similar to my own that I somehow feel excluding from really appreciating the depths and quality of this book by, as Treslove, not being myself a Jew. I have no doubt Jacobson writes well and has the ability to convey some very interesting ideas. However, I don't think 'The Finkler Question' has the qualities to make it a book likely to appeal to a wide audience. I can certainly understand why other readers struggled to complete it, though I didn't have as hard a job here as I did when reading 'Catch-22'.

Sometimes I smiled, and certainly I have come away with some new thoughts to pursue - but, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone without making it really clear what they're letting themselves in for. ( )
  PaulBaldowski | Jan 24, 2015 |
I found this book very hard to get into, and difficult to relate to. Liked the way you saw events from various different character's view points, but didn't understand them. ( )
  LouieAndTheLizard | Jan 22, 2015 |
This was a deeply disappointing book. I bought it on spec as the winner of the Man Booker prize, but it failed to deliver.
The first half of the book seems to be a running Woody Allen gag. I can only sparingly enjoy Woody Allen, and half a book of morbid self-reflection dressed up as humour was well beyond my limit.
Then the second half of the book turns dark - same obsessive self-reflection, but lacking the humour. I started to miss the first half of the book.
Surely all Jewish people are not like this? Woody Allen is a caricature, isn't he? Don't they have lives, and careers and children and mortgages to shape them into normal, rounded personalities?
Read January 2015. ( )
  mbmackay | Jan 9, 2015 |
Very funny indeed! Thoughtful, clever, a bit uneven. Great reading. ( )
  sberson | Sep 27, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 112 (next | show all)
Fans of Howard Jacobson might be alarmed to discover that the main character in his latest novel is a Gentile. As it turns out, though, they needn’t worry. Julian Treslove may not be Jewish, but in most other respects he’s a typical Jacobson protagonist: a middle-aged man much given to tears, self-interrogation, a sense of imminent doom, falling heavily in love and regarding his male friends as his male rivals. Above all, he’s obsessed with Jews and Jewishness.
The Finkler Question (longlisted for this year's Man Booker prize) is full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding. It is also beautifully written with that sophisticated and near invisible skill of the authentic writer. Technically the characterisation is impeccable, the prose a subtle delight, the word selection everywhere perfect, the phrase-making fresh and arresting without self-consciousness. Indeed, there's so much that is first rate in the manner of Jacobson's delivery that I could write all day on his deployment of language without once mentioning what the book is about. A single line describing the hero's father will have to do: "a man who stood so straight that he created a kind of architectural silence around himself".
The Finkler Question is very funny, utterly original, and addresses a topic of contemporary fascination. That is to say, it is about the anguish of middle-aged men, it consists of a series of loosely arranged episodes rich in argument and incident, and it examines how Jews now interrogate their relations with Israel.

It puts in play a gentile fascinated by Jews, and his two Jewish friends, one a Zionist comfortable in London, and the other an anti-Zionist comfortable in his outrage. They engage with each other in sometimes moving, sometimes bathetic ways, making their own journeys of self-understanding while they exasperatedly strive to educate each other.

The anti-Zionist Jew is called Finkler, hence the title of the novel. The "question" of "Finkler" is today's version of the "Jewish question". At the end of the 19th century, Jews asked of themselves, and were asked, "What is the future of the Jewish people?" At the end of the 20th century, this question had been reformulated as "What is the future of the Jewish state?" In Jacobson's book, Finkler dwells among those miscellaneous Jews who answer the question in versions of condemnation of Israel, Zionism, and Judaism.
The Finkler Question is a terrifying and ambitious novel, full of dangerous shallows and dark, deep water. It takes in the mysteries of male friendship, the relentlessness of grief and the lure of emotional parasitism. In its insistent interrogation of Jewishness – from the exploration of the relationship between the perpetrators of violence and hatred and their victims, to the idea of the individual at once in opposition to and in love with his or her culture – it is by turns breezily open and thought-provokingly opaque, and consistently wrong-foots the reader. For Treslove, the committed shape-shifter with little really at stake, such demands unsurprisingly prove rather too much. "Would he ever get to the bottom," he wonders, "of the things Finklers did and didn't do?"

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Howard Jacobsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lange, Barbara deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the memory of three dear friends, great givers of laughter

Terry Collits (1940-2009)

Tony Errington (1944-2009)

Graham Rees (1944-2009)

Who now will set the table on a roar?

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He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one.
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Book description
He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one... 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 Sevcik, 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.
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Julian Treslove, a radio producer, and Samuel Finkler, a Jewish philosopher, have been friends since childhood and, as they enter middle age, they reminisce over their struggles with self-identity, anti-Semitism, women, love, and the past.

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