“The Finkler Question” by Howard Jacobson

FinklerQuestionWikipedia gives an outline of the plot for this novel, which revolves around three characters. Julian Treslove is a former (and not particularly successful) radio producer, whilst his old friend Sam Finkler is a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality. Despite a prickly relationship, they remain good friends who also keep in contact with their former teacher Libor Sevcik, a Jewish Czech nearing ninety who once worked as a Hollywood gossip columnist.

At the beginning of the novel, Treslove is attacked while walking home after dining with his two friends. It seems he is mugged by a woman who hisses the phrase “You Ju” at him. This sparks an obsession for Treslove with all things Jewish, which includes starting a relationship with Hephzibah, the great-grandniece of Libor. In the meantime, Finkler has joined an organization which favours the Palestinians in their land disputes with Israel. The novel coalesces into an ending that brings together the disparate narrative strands amongst the three central characters.

Published in 2010, this  was the first comic novel to win the Man Booker Prize since 1986. The former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion was chairman of the judges and  said, “The Finkler Question should not be seen as something that was ‘relentlessly middle-brow, or easy-peasy’ because it was comic. It is much cleverer and more complicated and about much more difficult things than it immediately lets you know.”

We read this in November 2014, and five members attended the meeting.

Reactions to the book were quite varied. Most found it funny at times and Bill  voted it the “funniest book”.

Several readers thought found the emphasis on ‘the Finkler question’ (ie Treslove’s debates about what it means to be Jewish) became repetitive and boring after a while. Alan also found it pretentious but some incidents and ideas kept him going to the end.

Scores ranged from 3 to 9 to give an average of 5.8 (6 readers, including one 1 email vote).

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