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.
past. In particular, I will focus on the
most contested and controversial area of contemporaryfiction
cinema’s representation of the past – the use of documentary
images as a mode of imaginative reconstruction or re-enactment. The shift
from documentary images being understood as the trace of the past, as
something left behind by a past event, to something available for
imaginative and poetic
‘post-contemporaryfiction’. 37 The list could easily be expanded. For
some of these critics, Wasson, for instance, the postmodernism that they do not mention
reacts against modernism, but for most of them the target is a much longer tradition of
attempts at realistic representation of which modernism is only one practice out of
And then we have critics who accept the idea of
‘postmodernism’ in a general way, but single out a dominant mode that they
then give a more personal label. An especially
constructions of Scotland and Ireland are almost changing faster than cultural
representations can cope with. Roddy Doyle’s advice for the citizens of
the Republic is apposite for those living throughout these islands: ‘You
22/3/02, 10:06 am
Contemporary Irish and Scottish fiction
should bring your passport to bed with you because you’re going to wake
up in a different place’ (quoted in Smyth 1997: 102). It is also pertinent
advice for writers of contemporaryfiction in Ireland and Scotland.
Nevertheless, the established cultural institutions
T.S. Eliot and Gothic hauntings in Waugh’s A Handful of Dust and Barnes’s Nightwood
Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik
, Streetwalking the Metropolis, p. 9.
Cited in Heath, The Picturesque Prison, p. 118.
Parsons, Streetwalking the Metropolis, p. 9.
Ahmed Nimeiri, ‘Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood and “the Experience of
America”’, Critique: Studies in ContemporaryFiction, 34:1 (1993), p. 111.
Herring, Djuna, p. 262.
Georgette Fleischer, ‘Djuna Barnes and T.S. Eliot: The Politics and Poetics of
Nightwood’, Studies in the Novel, 30:3 (Autumn 1998), 405–35.
Fleischer, ‘Djuna Barnes and T.S. Eliot’, p. 416.
T.S. Eliot, ‘Introduction’, in Djuna Barnes, Nightwood, London, Faber &
Faber, 1936, p. 3.
Pollution, contamination and the neglected dead in post-war Saigon
Modern Society: Bureaucracy,
Democracy, Totalitarianism, trans. J. Thompson (Cambridge, MA: MIT
Lévi-Strauss, C., 1992, Tristes Tropiques, trans. J. Weightman and D.
Weightman (London and New York: Penguin).
Levinas, E., 2000, God, Death, and Time, trans. B. Bergo (Stanford, CA:
Stanford University Press).
Mbembe, A., 2003, ‘Necropolitics’, Public Culture 15(1): 11–40.
Nguyen Manh Tuan, 2003, ‘Living by the Tombs’, in W. Karlin and H. A.
Thai (eds), Love after War: ContemporaryFiction from Vietnam, pp. 386–
99 (Willimantic, CT: Curbstone Press).
with the fact that his work is not easily accommodated in any of the dominant paradigms of academic discourse on contemporaryfiction in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries: namely, postmodernism, postcolonialism, trauma theory and the historiographical turn. It might also be partly because Jacobson often seems to stand apart from most of his contemporaries. He is neither a social realist nor a postmodernist; he writes compulsively about ethnicity, but an ethnicity that has, historically, not had much critical currency in the British academy; and he
intensely personal, and also the
locus of manifestations of inner changes, and therefore ineluctably public.
And, crucially, the individual body must remain invisible to the person who
inhabits it and is deﬁned by it: it is what we can never see properly, even if
we can feel it totally. The communication of the feelings aroused by this
knowledge is one of the great challenges of contemporaryﬁction: there is
the need to write the body – to bring it into view and into existence – yet
the more one focuses on one’s own body and personalises the deﬁnitions
and descriptions of
another indicator of the player’s ability as reader. It is as
if a novel contained areas of sub-plot that were cordoned off from
the main body of the narrative, and accessible only to those readers
More than a game
who somehow prove their sophistication of reading. An analogy
might be found, perhaps, in the intertextual play of some contemporaryfiction where recognition of an authorial reference to something outside the novel (a play, another novel, a film, a song, a
political speech etc.) adds a further element to the readerly
best popular writing about
science is aesthetically superior to most contemporaryﬁction. Indeed, some of the best
aesthetic writing seems increasingly to eschew extended ﬁction in the name of the attempt
to use the results of lived experience and historical and other research to oﬀer new worlddisclosing perspectives. I am thinking, for example, of a book like W.G. Sebald’s Die Ringe
If this sounds too abstract, what I mean is exempliﬁed, for example, in the ways in which
government-imposed evaluations of humanistic disciplines in academia are