He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one... Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other or with their former teacher, Libor Sevcik, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.
Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor's grand, central London apartment. It's a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends' losses.
And it's that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.
The Finkler Question is a scorching story of friendship and loss, exclusion and belonging, and of the wisdom and humanity of maturity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.
Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2010 Man Booker Prize Winner. Be like me. Be mislead by the synopsis, which summarizes what happens in only the first few pages and read the book. That is marketing. You sell books that are about lifelong friends who cope with loss in each others' misery. There is depth to that story. There are layers you can't wait to peal away, one chapter at a time. You may still sell some books, but not nearly as many, that are about two Jews who wonder what the point is to be Jewish any more and their non-Jew friend who is literally obsessed with all things Jewish.
This book is a great example of an unnamed genre where the weak plot is just a vehicle for an author to write beautifully about something. In The Finkler Question, Jacobson offers some deep perspective on mortality, companionship and the sense of self. He adds some commentary on the still-on-going violence against Jews around the world. His characters are flawed, even those who seem to be the best put together (maybe they are the most flawed of all) and that might be the most "real" part about this story.
It seems that from the a few of the recent Man Booker winners that maybe the Prize goes to the book that has the best writing and is not necessarily the best book...if that makes sense. To that point I cite this book and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh.
Wikipedia says that Howard Jacobson "is best known for writing comic novels that often revolve around the dilemmas of British Jewish characters." This is recommended reading if you like pretty much anything by Michael Chabon who works a healthy amount of Judaism into his writing, whether it belongs there or not. That's not really my "thing," though I will always highly encourage people to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.
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