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Live a Little: A Novel (2019)

by Howard Jacobson

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602328,307 (3.38)3
A wickedly observed novel about falling in love at the end of your life, by the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Finkler Question. At the age of ninety-something, Beryl Dusinbery is forgetting everything -- including her own children. She spends her days stitching morbid samplers and tormenting her two long-suffering carers, Nastya and Euphoria, with tangled stories of her husbands and love affairs. Shimi Carmelli can do up his own buttons, walks without the aid of a frame and speaks without spitting. Among the widows of North London, he's whispered about as the last of the eligible bachelors. Unlike Beryl, he forgets nothing -- especially not the shame of a childhood incident that has hung over him like an oppressive cloud ever since. There's very little life remaining for either of them, but perhaps just enough to heal some of the hurt inflicted along the way, and find new meaning in what's left. Told with Jacobson's trademark wit and style, Live a Little is in equal parts funny, irreverent and tender -- a novel to make you consider all the paths not taken, and whether you could still change course.… (more)
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Howard Jacobson's latest novel is about two nonagenarians who find unexpected new life when they find each other.

They couldn't be more different; Shimi, a most private bachelor, forgets nothing and ruminates relentlessly over every shameful transgression that's ever occurred in his life, whereas Beryl, who has left multiple lovers in her wake over the decades, cares little of what anyone thinks of her but is infuriated at her increasing forgetfulness of words. She's delighted that for the first time she's met a man who realises he has flaws, while he's delighted to have met someone who doesn't mind.

The pair only cross paths in the last third of the book, which is a shame. The first two thirds didn't overly work for me. Having heard Jacobson talk about this book, he described Beryl as the character he's had most fun with ever, but the humour in the first part of the book felt too try-hard. Beryl's a privileged white old lady who's constantly making sardonic colonial-esque quips at the expense of her African and Eastern European carers, and whilst the joke was on her and her ignorance rather than condoning racism it just felt wrong time for these types of remarks. The story wasn't going anywhere beyond her constant sharp tongue, and equally Shimi's story wasn't pulling me in.

Once the pair become friends the book shifted up a gear and became much more enjoyable. Through their meeting of minds we discover hidden depth to Beryl, and there's plenty of gallows humour between the two as Beryl encourages Shimi out of his shell of shame, and he in turn brings new light to her life.

3 stars - an enjoyable last 100 pages, but I can't forgive a book taking for taking too long to reel me in. ( )
  AlisonY | Jul 2, 2020 |
Honestly, terrible. When one of the blurbs compared it to Roth, that person must have meant both "navel-gazing" and "so casually misogynistic you'll tear your hair out." ( )
  sparemethecensor | Oct 27, 2019 |
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"Mi mancano le parole," dice la Principessa a suo figlio. Non sa bene quale.
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A wickedly observed novel about falling in love at the end of your life, by the Man Booker Prize-winning author of The Finkler Question. At the age of ninety-something, Beryl Dusinbery is forgetting everything -- including her own children. She spends her days stitching morbid samplers and tormenting her two long-suffering carers, Nastya and Euphoria, with tangled stories of her husbands and love affairs. Shimi Carmelli can do up his own buttons, walks without the aid of a frame and speaks without spitting. Among the widows of North London, he's whispered about as the last of the eligible bachelors. Unlike Beryl, he forgets nothing -- especially not the shame of a childhood incident that has hung over him like an oppressive cloud ever since. There's very little life remaining for either of them, but perhaps just enough to heal some of the hurt inflicted along the way, and find new meaning in what's left. Told with Jacobson's trademark wit and style, Live a Little is in equal parts funny, irreverent and tender -- a novel to make you consider all the paths not taken, and whether you could still change course.

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