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Howard Jacobson wins the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2010

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Howard Jacobson was named the winner of the £50,000 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Finkler Question, published by Bloomsbury.

London author and columnist Howard Jacobson has been longlisted twice for the prize, in 2006 for Kalooki Nights and in 2002 for Who’s Sorry Now, but has never before been shortlisted.

The Finkler Question is a novel about love, loss and male friendship, and explores what it means to be Jewish today.

Said to have ‘some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language’, The Finkler Question has been described as ‘wonderful’ and ‘richly satisfying’ and as a novel of ‘full of wit, warmth, intelligence, human feeling and understanding’.

This is the third Man Booker winner published by Bloomsbury. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood won the prize in 2000 and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje in 1992. The publisher has had six shortlisted books including Cats Eye (1989), Alias Grace (1996) and Oryx and Crake (2003) by Margaret Atwood, Lies of Silence (1990) by Brian Moore, Crossing the River (1993) by Caryl Phillips and The Map of Love (1999) by Ahdaf Soueif.

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Sir Andrew Motion, Chair of the judges, made the announcement, which was broadcast by the BBC from the awards dinner at London’s Guildhall. Peter Clarke, Chief Executive of Man, presented Howard Jacobson with a cheque for £50,000.

Andrew Motion comments ‘The Finkler Question is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle. It is all that it seems to be and much more than it seems to be. A completely worthy winner of this great prize.’

Over and above his prize of £50,000, Howard Jacobson can expect a huge increase in sales and recognition worldwide. Each of the six shortlisted authors, including the winner, receives £2,500 and a designer-bound edition of their book.

The judging panel for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction was: Andrew Motion (Chair), former Poet Laureate; Rosie Blau, Literary Editor of the Financial Times; Deborah Bull, formerly a dancer, now Creative Director of the Royal Opera House as well as a writer and broadcaster; Tom Sutcliffe, journalist, broadcaster and author and Frances Wilson, biographer and critic.

Sales of the books longlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize have been stronger than ever before, with sales over 45% higher than last year.

(Courtesy: The Man Booker Prize)

 

 

The Finkler Question

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Howard Jacobson’s novel The Finkler Question begins with a mugging – of a man by a woman. Superficially at least, the female assailant relieves her victim of more than his belongings. She relieves him of his manliness. (Nothing is as unmanning as being manhandled by a woman.) The story, however, is more complicated than that.

The victim of this assault is Julian Treslove, a former producer of BBC arts programs and now a celebrity lookalike who looks like no celebrity in particular but is versatile enough to keep his job at the agency. With a Hampstead apartment not quite in Hampstead and two sons he doesn’t particularly care for (by different women, both ex-girlfriends), he is, to be blunt, a bit of a loser. Though prodigiously adept at falling in love, he is nevertheless unlucky in it. He is 49 years old, and single.

Treslove has spent the evening with two friends, both of whom are also single, their wives having died within a month of each other. Sam Finkler, Treslove’s childhood pal, is a philosopher in the Alain de Botton mould (Descartes for Daters, that kind of thing), while Libor Sevcik, a Mittel-European dandy and former Hollywood columnist, is their nonagenarian former tutor. Both are Jewish, unlike Treslove, who refers to Jewish people as "Finklers", "Jew" being too small and furtive a word, in his opinion, for people such as Finkler, who is big and has "extravagant features". To call Jews Finklers, Treslove thinks, is to challenge the negative stereotype of them. It never occurs to him that it is the stereotype that gives the word "Jew" its "dark" associations. But then Treslove, for all his powers of impersonation, could never be taken for one of life’s thinkers.

Nor, indeed, as one of life’s Finklers, though his female assailant begs to differ: when she mugs him, she says the words "you Jew". Or that’s what Treslove thinks she says. His philo-Semitism, or Finklerphilia, is such that he may be imagining it. Whatever the truth, his obsession with Jewishness grows as a result of the attack, as does his self-esteem. Both alight, in romantic fashion, on a "Finkleress" called Hephzibah, who is setting up a museum of Anglo-Jewish culture on the Abbey Road in North London. As Sevcik and Finkler argue about Israel (this, says Treslove, is "the Finkler question"), the museum comes under attack from vandals.

And it is here that Jacobson’s satire darkens, as that most protean of psychological phenomena, anti-Semitism (Finklerphobia?), rises from the filth like a golem.

Though perhaps a little schematic at times, The Finkler Question is an enjoyable novel. Jacobson’s ear is sharply attuned to modern anti-Semitism, to "the incessant buzzing of rumour and reproach" to which Jews are subjected and subject themselves. His portrait of the anti-Zionist crowd that meets under the name "ASHamed Jews" is frequently hilarious. One especially pitiless passage is reserved for a comedian who finds out he is Jewish "in the course of making a television program in which he was confronted on camera with who he really was". Jacobson continues: "In the final frame of the film he was disclosed weeping before a memorial in Auschwitz to dead ancestors who until that moment he had never known he’d had. ‘It could explain where I get my comic genius from,’ he told an interviewer for a newspaper, though by then he had renegotiated his new allegiance. Born a Jew on Monday, he had signed up to be an ASHamed Jew by Wednesday and was seen chanting ‘We are all Hezbollah’ outside the Israeli Embassy the following Saturday."

"You’re all too quick on your feet," says Treslove, in point of the Jewish sense of humour, to which Hephzibah replies, "Have to be . . . You never know when you might be packing your bags." Thus are comedy and catastrophe linked, as indeed they are by this novel, which is as politically timely as it is comically well-timed. One finishes it with an uncomfortable sense that this story has some way to go.

Reviewed by Richard King

Courtesy: The Sunday Morning Herald

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