John Banville was awarded the Mann-Booker Prize for his novel, The Sea. It is quite well written and deals with such unique themes as memory, love, and death. Who wouldn’t love it .. other than me. Actually, I recognize the skill and quality of this novel and found it sufficiently engaging to read to the last page of it’s ho-hum narrative (luckily, it was short). Still. right on the front cover The Washington Post references the novel’s “power and strangeness and piercing beauty” … really?
Oh, here we go again with all that Jewish angst. Shoah, Shoah, Shoah.
That is one of the themes in The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. The story involves three men: one Jewish, another Jewish but anti-Jewish, and a third goyim but thinking and acting like he might be Jewish. It might not surprise you then that this award winning novel is an exploration of what it means to be Jewish in contemporary culture. This isn’t really the Jewish religion but rather the Jewish culture and the contemporary attitudes towards Jews and Israel.
And underneath it all is a varied and nuanced representation of anti-semitism in today’s world. Whether it is the depiction of the “self-loathing Jew” which is decidedly overdone in the novel, or the events of out-right anti-semitism, or even the less obvious racism of a main character who in his confusion the possibility of his being or wanting to be a Jew, The Finkler Question is really The Jewish Question. As one character thinks:
“After a period of exceptional quiet anti-Semitism was becoming again what it had always been — an escalator that never stopped, and which anyone could hop on at will.”
I found The Finkler Question tedious and repetitious. True, nothing really happens in the novel but that doesn’t bother me: in fact, I rather well enjoy a good Erzälung but this one was dry toast. I know it won the Mann-Booker Prize so I went back to see what other novels were in contention. But even though I didn’t see anything that jumped out at me as a winner, I still can’t see how this one was chosen. I have read that Jacobson wrote this novel about anti-semitism and for whatever it lacked in originality or quality it made up in cute epithets and funny situations. As so often, however, I must have forgotten to laugh.
This one gets my Fibber McGee Award.