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Book 189: J: a Novel by Howard Jacobson

Book 189: J: a Novel.
Author: Howard Jacobson, 2014.
Genre: Literary. Dystopian Future.
Other Details: Hardback. 326 pages.

Set in the future - a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited ... Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn’t know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn't then, and isn’t now, the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. .... They aren’t sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they’ve been pushed into each other’s arms. But who would have pushed them, and why? Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe – a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened. - synopsis from UK publisher's website.

I very much enjoyed Jacobson's The Finkler Question and so was quite excited when his latest was part of the 2014 Man Booker short-list. However, I was disappointed and then some. Certainly there are plenty of glowing reviews of the novel so I may be in the minority yet I felt no enthusiasm at all for it. I feel rather annoyed that critics go into hyper-praise mode when a mainstream writer branches out into genre fiction such as a dystopian future while constantly snubbing their noses at genre fiction. I had issues with The Road over this and yet The Road was so much better than this novel. Even if McCarthy ignored the reason for the disaster at least there was tension and characters that one could feel for. Here the world-building was weak as was the characterisation. It was just boring. The publishers also deserve a slap on the wrist for stating on the dust jacket that this novel was going to rank with Brave New World and Nineteen-Eight-Four.

After reading it I came across a newspaper review that mentioned the fact that Jacobson was making much of the point that he was not going to use the word 'Jew' in his latest novel. Well, he stuck to that in technical terms and yet the novel was about as subtle as a brick on the nature of its unmentionable catastrophe. I am in agreement with one reviewer who did enjoy the novel but pointed out the premise of a dystopian novel needs to be believable to work and wrote: "But on reflection is it really imaginable that Britain will have anti-Semitic pogroms within the next few years?".

J: a Novel was a flop with our Man Booker Shadowing Group and came last on every member's list.
Tags: dystopia, holocaust literature, literary
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