This is a comprehensive and definitive study of the Man Booker Prize-winning novelist Howard Jacobson. It offers lucid, detailed and nuanced readings of each of Jacobson’s novels, and makes a powerful case for the importance of his work in the landscape of contemporary fiction. Focusing on the themes of comedy, masculinity and Jewishness, the book emphasises the richness and diversity of Jacobson’s work. Often described by others as ‘the English Philip Roth’ and by himself as ‘the Jewish Jane Austen’, Jacobson emerges here as a complex and often contradictory figure: a fearless novelist; a combative public intellectual; a polemical journalist; an unapologetic elitist and an irreverent outsider; an exuberant iconoclast and a sombre satirist. Never afraid of controversy, Jacobson tends to polarise readers; but, love him or hate him, he is difficult to ignore. This book gives him the thorough consideration and the balanced evaluation that he deserves.
During the course of writing this book, I have read virtually every word written by and about HowardJacobson; not just the fiction and the articles and reviews of the fiction; not just the non-fiction books, interviews, features and criticism; but every column he wrote for the Independent over a period of seventeen years, and, for shorter periods of time, in The Times , the Guardian and Tablet ; every one of the series of travel pieces he wrote for the Sunday Times ; every occasional piece of journalism and every broadcast, podcast, debate
At a conference on ‘Jewish Identities and American Writing’, hosted by the Rothermere American Institute in 2001, HowardJacobson gave a talk (which has never been published) in which he subjected the celebrated opening lines of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March (1953) to a close reading that, he claimed, exposed its grammatical confusion and intellectual imprecision. He went on to juxtapose a sex scene from Philip Roth’s The Dying Animal (2001) with one from his own novel No More Mr Nice Guy , in order to demonstrate the alleged superiority of
anti-text as an emphatic, prophetic negation of meaning, a nihilistic rejection of the possibility of meaningful discourse in a culture in which language itself has become debased and hollowed out, is not entirely facetious. In fact, it closely anticipates the concerns of the novel that Jacobson wrote in the immediate aftermath of the election of Donald Trump as US president.
Pussy: A Novel (2017)
At one point, the narrator of HowardJacobson’s novel Who’s Sorry Now? (2002) refers obliquely to Lewinskygate, the scandal that nearly brought down President
Ends , HowardJacobson told the broadcaster Clive Anderson that the subject of his next novel, and indeed of all his writing from now on, was to be ‘old men feeling melancholic and thinking about the grave’ ( Anderson 2017 ). In doing so, Jacobson was invoking the two great lodestones of his career, Shakespeare 7 and Philip Roth, alluding to Prospero’s vow, at the end of The Tempest , that ‘every third thought shall be my grave’ (V, i, 366), but also, by implication, Roth’s novel Sabbath’s Theater , whose epigraph is this line and whose protagonist, Mickey Sabbath
A sketching out of two potential directions for future scholarship on Jacobson to take: an analysis of the importance of Manchester in and to Jacobson’s fiction; and an analysis of Jacobson as a transatlantic Jewish writer.