I resolved to read more fiction this year, and specifically tackle the enormous backlog of books I’ve been accumulating (and lugging from city to city, and continent to continent) for 20 years now. My strategy is to stop reading the New York Times on my commute and read paperbacks. It’s really only about 40 minutes a day but it adds up and I’m slowly nibbling my way through my stack. I intend these reviews to be very short. I’m also using this to keep track of what I’ve read.
The Finkler Question, set in contemporary London, is the story of the gloomy, directionless middle-aged Julian Treslove and his narrow circle of friends. Treslove is a gentile, but his friends are Jewish and he is drawn deeper and deeper into their world. The book explores modern Jewish identity, anti-Semitism and Zionism, overlaid with questions about aging, mourning and loss. Jacobson is a skilled stylist, and writes with humor and insight, but the book starts slowly and never picks up speed. Treslove starts out unsympathetic, and never seems convincing as a character – he’s more of a collection of neuroses. (It didn’t help that I read The Finkler Question immediately after finishing Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee, which treads some similar territory to much more powerful effect). There’s a claustrophobic quality to the work, as the book’s handful of characters keep on bumping into each other, and every conversation and event circles around the same theme of Jewishness. With its small cast, domestic setting and heavy message, I wonder if it might have made a better play than novel.
Books completed this year:
1, The Man in the High Castle (Dick)
2, Disgrace (Coetzee)
3, The Finkler Question (Jacobson)