ANDREW FFRENCH delves into our latest Book of the Month – The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson.


WHENEVER I see the words Man Booker Prize, I have to confess that I find the accolade a little off-putting.

A quick look at the list of previous Booker Prize winners reveals that I have deliberately avoided the vast majority of the winning novels since the literary award was launched in 1969.

My suspicion is that the prose in the winning tales will be a little bit too polished for my taste and that the authors will focus on style instead of concentrating on the plot.

There have been exceptions. I was bowled over by Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty in 2004, and Ian McEwan’s novella Amsterdam, the winner in 1998, was such a memorable dark satire, I read it twice.

I have dipped into The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 winner, but found the carefully crafted prose a little too slow for my liking.

And I know I should have read Last Orders by Graham Swift, the winner in 1996, and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, Roddy Doyle’s winner from 1993, but I couldn’t swear to it.

So what would I make of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question?

I was pleased to hear that Jacobson’s winning effort was the first comic novel to win the prize since Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils in 1986.

Although a little concerned that I might not understand all the Jewish references, I was looking forward to being entertained.

And I’m relieved to say that while I didn’t actually laugh out loud on too many occasions, I found this novel a thoroughly entertaining read.

Jacobson’s story focuses on the lives of two old friends and their teacher. The two friends are Julian Treslove, a former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher and TV personality.

Despite their different lives they have never lost touch with each other, or their former teacher, Libor Sevcik.

Both Sevcik and Finkler are recently widowed and, together with Treslove, they share a nostalgic evening reminiscing about a time before they met the loves of their lives.

It is on that evening that Treslove is attacked as he walks home, sparking a series of new plot twists to entertain the reader.

Although The Finkler Question is a ‘comic’ novel, Jacobson focuses on a number of serious themes, including grief, belief and memory, and I found it a thought-provoking read as well as an amusing one. And I now feel much better qualified to read The Old Devils.


AN award-winning novelist and critic, Howard Jacobson, right, was born in Manchester and read English at Cambridge under FR Leavis.

He is best known for writing comic novels that focus on the antics and dilemmas of Jewish characters living in the UK.

Jacobson taught at the University of Sydney, Selwyn College, Cambridge, and then at Wolverhampton Polytechnic.

And the Midlands polytechnic became the inspiration for his first novel, Coming From Behind.

Other novels include The Mighty Waltzer, winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize, Kalooki Nights, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and The Act of Love.

The author writes a weekly column for the Independent and has written and presented several TV documentaries. He lives in London with his wife.

Jacobson was 68 when he won the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question last year, the oldest winner since William Golding in 1980.

* The Finkler Question is published by Bloomsbury, priced £7.99, but you can get it for half price at Waterstones in Oxford and Witney with the voucher printed in The Guide - the entertainment's supplement of the Oxford Mail.