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The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question (edition 2011)

by Howard Jacobson

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1,8741183,688 (3.03)315
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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Well it was a good read, but I can't say I can think of anything about it that would make me recommend it to anyone else! ( )
  GwenMcGinty | May 13, 2016 |
Julian Treslove, a professional celebrity double, has been friends since school with the Jewish Sam Finkler. Julian and Sam were taught by another Jew, Libor, who has also kept in touch. At the beginning of the novel Libor's wife, to whom he has been married for 50 years, has just died, as has Sam's wife Tyler, and the three men start to socialize together more. Julian is mugged (by a woman) one evening and thinks she said "You Jew" to him while she was attacking him. This sets him off on a path of wondering if he might in some sense be Jewish or become Jewish.

There is not much of a plot really, and none of the characters (with the exception of Hephzibah) are very likeable. While reading I had periods of enjoying the writing very much, periods of being quite bored and periods of wishing there wasn't so much endless musing on Jewishness and Zionism. I suppose I ought to have realized this from the quotations on the back cover, but the whole novel is really about Jews and anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic Jews. It wasn't exactly hard to follow, but at times I wasn't sure my interest in the topic could bear much more. On the plus side, the writing is good and some of the humour very dry - I daresay I missed some of it. This would be a good book for discussion. ( )
  pgchuis | Jan 6, 2016 |
The Finkler Question is about our sense of identity, both individually and collectively. Howard Jacobsons observations are both perceptive and unsettling.[return][return]Julian Treslove, the principal character, is an Englishman with no sense of purpose in his life, drifting from one career and relationship to the next, driven chiefly by guilt and regret. Almost his only stable relationships are with two longtime friends, Sam Finkler, an old classmate, and Libor Sevcik, their former teacher. Finkler and Libor are both Jews, but political enemies. Libor, a Zionist, glories in the Jewish State and defends Israel from the accusations of Finkler, who thinks British Jews should feel only shame for the way Israel treats the Palestinians. What Treslove sees in both men, however, is their strong sense of belonging and heritage. Any cause seems worthy to the man who has none.[return][return]Treslove’s fascination with Judaism turns into an obsession. He begins to fancy himself a Jew and picks a Jewish woman to fall in love with. But Treslove, Finkler and Libor are all destined to question their attitudes and assumptions when political events kick off a wave of anti-Semitism in London.[return][return]The novel asks disturbing questions about how we as groups or individuals define and defend our identities. Do we treasure grief and tragedy more than joy and fulfillment? Do we value our enemies more than our friends? Are we working to reconcile our differences, or to perpetuate our estrangement? [return][return]As serious as these topics are, The Finkler Question is a delightfully entertaining book to read. There is uproarious humor throughout, and passages so beautifully written they are worth reading over and over. This is a marvelous, thoughtful novel you won’t soon forget. ( )
  Dolmance | Oct 28, 2015 |
The comments on the cover of this book describing it as "seriously funny" misled me a bit. It is funny - but the humour is gentle and understated, and the sort that you chuckle at in an intellectual sort of way over a glass of whisky, rather than writhing around on the floor clutching at your sides. Mostly, of course, it is serious. A serious look at the business of being Jewish (and yet the book's cover makes no mention of this; it's the elephant in the room. Unless of course Mr Jacobson always writes about being Jewish and readers are just supposed to know...?). It's an intelligent, forensic examination of the subject - through the eyes of Jews who feel guilty, Jews who feel aggrieved, people who culturally identify as Jewish despite no previous evidence. I appreciated the quality of the writing, but it did lose me a bit, particularly at the end. It was like being in a lecture given by a witty speaker but who really prefers to inform than entertain. ( )
1 vote jayne_charles | Jul 6, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 115 (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?"

» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Howard Jacobsonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lange, Barbara deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rey, Santiago delTranslatorsecondary 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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