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2.0 out of 5 starsI did not like this book. Really
Reviewed in the United States on September 13, 2020
I never finished reading it. Although it got a lot of prizes and may be wonderfully written, I couldn't bring myself to finish it, none of the characters allowed me to identify with them, it all felt very impersonal, no feeling really. I can't say it in words but the book made me feel uncomfortable, and there was nothing pleasant or catching about it, it didn't make me curious to see what happens to any of the people in there.
This is a slightly amusing book that seems as pointless as the history it tells. It is the story of three adult Englishmen, friends, in contemporary London. Two are widowers and Jews and one is unmarried and not, but maybe wants to be, a Jew and/or married. The men seem to wander through life without much purpose or intent. Both separately and together, they rehearse Israel's right to exist, and anti-Semitism as it apparently exists in England. The meaning of Judaism as a religion or philosophy or guideline for living is largely lost.
The women who are peripheral to the male protagonists are more interesting although, I suppose, stereotyped: a Jewish "mother"; two somewhat neurotic, thin lipped, dare I write it, WASPs; a woman who converts to Judaism; the wife held in memory as an ideal partner. Of course, at least two of them are dead, so we see them through the eyes of their husbands and lovers. Still, the women seem more human, more purposeful, than the men they support.
The book becomes more intriguing about three quarters of the way through. The story quickens and develops into semi-tragedy. Then, it simply ends, with nothing resolved, little learned, and a dim future on the horizon. Frankly, if this wasn't a book group assignment, I would have quit after the first few chapters (or parts thereof).
After finishing the last pages, I checked out the reviews and the study questions. Got more of a chuckle from them then from the book. It's obvious to me that literary novels are not (cliche ahead) my cup of tea. Curses, I may have to quit the book group. I'll miss our delicious lunches.
This is in some ways a puzzling book. It has two primary aspects, an internal dialogue of several characters about the meaning and nature of being Jewish in England today where so much anti-semitism is extant and where so much negative feeling is evoked regarding the Zionist-Palestinian question, and a marvelous working of the connections between the three main charactters- two Jews (one self-hating) and their gentile friend who is fascinated by Jewishness. The title itself is a euphemism for "the Jewish Question." The interplay among the three and the development of these characters is worth the price of the book although perhaps not the Man Booker Prize which it received. The dialogue is clever, intellectual and quite thorough. I am not sure that aspect of the writing might be perceived as highly relevant by a non-Jew however. At the same time, there is an element of universality to it as well.
The book is extremely well-written. This talented author has tackled two subplots with skill and humor. The women in this book assume a more peripheral role in the lives of the characters but they are still essential to the story even though two of them are no longer present by the time the book unfolds. I did find the book easy to read and rather fast moving and I also found the discussions quite interesting but I would not call it a prize winner. For those interested in the depth of connections between people, it is a humorous and serious treatment of the subject. It is only toward the end of the book when the true power of the bond that links the main characters is finally and fully developed.
5.0 out of 5 starsThis book is a very sad and funny depiction of a conundrum that people face
Reviewed in the United States on September 26, 2016
This book is a very sad and funny depiction of a conundrum that people face. Some people have no idea who they are and don't know what to do with themselves. They enjoy freedom, but do not know how to interact with others in a meaningful way. Others have a very strong identity that frames their response to the human condition and gives them a medium by which they can connect with others. And while this is a blessing, this identity comes with historical baggage that can at times, prove lethal or at least a threat to their ability to flourish.
I enjoyed this romp, despite a confusing and dismissive ending, and the depressing aspects of the story. It is stereotypical, with its emphasis on Ashkenazi culture, as opposed to a broader understanding.
Julien's desire to become a Jew is strictly cultural. It has nothing to do with religion. Tyler (a wonderfully evocative Gentile name) gets that gig with an Ashkenazi (Finkler) who couldn't care less about G-d.
What the novel does best is warn of the tragic return of European anti-Semitism, with a willful misunderstanding of the Israeli-Arab situation as its excuse. Even if, as Finkler says, it's not yet at the level of a Kristallnacht pogrom but only (though still tragically) affecting random individuals. Jacobson seems to be warning that, if the English Ashkenazim keep indulging themselves as they are (ASHamed Jews, for example) a pogrom would be the logical result.
I admit that I have never read anything else by Jacobson and in fact I am glad I did read this. However, given the impressive list of books short-listed for the Man Booker this year, I was somewhat surprised that The Finkler Question emerged victorious.
There were several memorable scenes and quotes--some of which as a practiciting Jew hit home hard. The notion of having to openly express your condemnation of the Holocaust at every moment possible makes you step back and think for a moment-"Should I be more proactive in seeking out opportunities to do this?" The reader will likewis ebe amused with the almost constant virility of the geriatric cast of characters; giving hope to us "youngsters" that all is not lost as we age.
The Libor character was often frustrating with Treslove being more entertaining--likely the intent of the author. Overall a good read.
1.0 out of 5 starsEither exceptionally dull or over my head
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 2, 2019
I chose this to read, because it was a Booker prize winner. I struggled to understand the message behind it. A thoroughly tedious read; an uneventful plot; bewildered why I bothered to read to the end.
3.0 out of 5 starsStill bemused by its comic novel status
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on February 8, 2012
As an avid reader its almost obligatory to make sure you read the Booker Prize winner. In the past I have struggled with their choices. I never "got into" Life Of Pi, or The God Of Small Things or Vernon God Little and I also struggled with this.
Julian Treslove is the novels hero or rather anti-hero, having led rather a mediocre life in which he has been successful neither professionally or in his personal life, being able to woo women but not being able to sustain a relationship.
He regularly meets and dines with his old school friend Sam Finkler and their former teacher Libor when one night he is mugged after leaving Libor's house. His attacker is a woman, something which later causes his sons much mirth, but during the attack he first thinks she knows him as she seems to use his name, but then he realises she has called him a Jew.
The attack serves to send Julian on something of a quest, could he be Jewish? Did the woman recognise something elemental in him?
Both Libor and Finkler are Jewish, and in his mind Julian has always felt something of an outsider feeling unable by his lack of Jewishness to contribute to conversations which relate to Jewish history or more modern issues facing Israel etc .
Finkler a Jewish man uncomfortable with his identity to the extent that he labels himself an Ashamed Jew, comes to represent all Jews for Treslove thus The Jewish Question becomes "The Finkler Question" & Jews become "Finklers"
This is supposed to be a comic novel thats how its billed, but personally I find a lot of pathos in it particularly for Julian, a man who has grown up in his friend Finkler's shadow, and is searching for an identity of his own.
He begins a relationship with Hephzibah, a Jewish woman which at first seems a positive step. It is here in a conversation between Finkler & Hephzibah that I find myself being able to identify personally with the novel. I've tried to relocate it in the book and i can't. Essentially, Hephzibah says something about the impact of being Jewish on her identity and outlook, and raised Catholic I found myself entirely agreeing with the essence of her experience and point by substituting the word Jew for Catholic, and what is like to be a Catholic. Julian Treslove spends the novel going about pointing out how "Finklers" are other than him and how he will never get it right with them. The message that I took from the book, is that it is Julian himself who is other and different and not the community with which he becomes obsessed.
Is it funny? Not to me no. Is it strange? Yes! Is it worth reading? Maybe, but I will be in no rush to recommend it, having read so much there are books which always spring to mind when someone asks for a recommendation & I doubt The Finkler Question will ever be among them. Is it worthy of the Booker? I don't know, I haven't read C, The Long Song or that other one yet! 6 or 7/10
3.0 out of 5 starsA middleage man's search for belonging
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on November 8, 2012
This book has had a number of positive recommendations and I read it at the suggestion of another member of my reading group who enjoys his writing in the Independent. My wife previously had attempted to read it with her reading group and given it up so I was interested to see if a male reader would form different views. The style is as an internal narration mainly from the perspective of the main characters flawed immature search for a better identity and sense of belonging. It often charts the melancholic envy of a lonely ineffective middle aged man with a string of failed relationships and jobs living in North London at a time of rising disquiet over Israel's actions in Gaza. He is a serial romantic who lives in an internal world dominated by a morbid desire for tragedy the book tracks the destruction and despondent deceits that destroy his small friendship group and all that he comes into contact with until he finally withdraws a lonely isolated character who seems destined to a life of lone disappointment. Along the way the book engages with envy of others, in this case the way he assumes that there is a bond in being Jewish that he envies and attempts to become through infidelity and relationship. The core here is the relationship he has with two Jewish men and later a Jewish woman. Here the author brings the book to life. Not a great read. Not a great insight into male search for identity, jealousy or understanding of real relationships. Not a great introduction to modern Jewish life in London but in parts funny in its poking fun at issues such as fore skin envy and fidelity / lack of it in relationships. What he has done well is to play a range of Jewish stereo types into a non Jew's illusion of being in someway excluded. It does highlight some of the fears of persecution for being perceived as different and the nature of the desire to protect the ones we love from truth that they fear will harm them, but in fact creates barriers in relationship. Some will love it for others it will not be memorable.
5.0 out of 5 starsGreat book - I laughed uncontrollably at times
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on January 11, 2018
Great book - I laughed uncontrollably at times - but for the first half of the book only. Hilarious insights into the world of British Jews. The latter part of the book is more sombre dealing with death and prejudice; this more serious half is overlong and tends to induce skimming.