27 March 2011

The Finkler Question

I am not sure if I should be ashamed to say it, but the only reason I finished reading The Finkler Question is because I didn’t want to abandon two novels in a row. Less than two weeks ago I gave up on The Judgment of Paris, which, thanks to Gore Vidal's prose (it sashays!), I'd found entertaining enough, but which, no thanks to Gore Vidal's prose (it sashays!), after a hundred or so pages I could no longer keep my concentration on. So I started reading the Jacobson, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2010.

Well, congratulations. All I have to say is that I must have really bad taste. Room — one of the shortlisted novels that lost to The Finkler Question — I quite liked but didn't love. I probably still think better of it than The Finkler Question, which, like The Judgment of Paris, I initially thought I was going to fall in love with. The first two, three chapters are really funny. Like I'm-laughing-in-a-coffee-shop-by-myself funny. And then the story, or the long, long reflection, on Jewish identity suddenly emerges and before I know it I'm dreading reading. I must say that it was not solely the whole obsession with Jewishness that made it a chore to finish the book. (Besides, I thought, if I write a book, won't I find myself equally obsessed with Filipino-ness?) But The New Yorker makes an observation that I just have to agree with completely: "Jacobson has a weakness for breaking into one-line paragraphs, so as to nudge the punch line on us." These one-liners work at first, I guess, but the more Jacobson uses it the more I feel like I'm being pounced on. Which would be all right if I weren't reading a novel. But I'm reading a novel, and yeah, sure, while sometimes it's okay to be pounced on, let it please not be one-liners that pounce on me. So, in my humble opinion, the P.G. Wodehouse and Evelyn Waugh comparisons are way off. The Finkler Question reads more like it's written by a British Jonathan Ames. (An awesome writer still!)

Also, Mr. Jacobson will likely generate an amazing number of followers if he ever decides to use Twitter.

This is not to say I don't admire him. I do! He writes great conversation. I even recommended the book to my Kabbalah-practicing lawyer cousin, writing to him in an E-mail, "There are 'light' insights on Jewishness, Judaism, and Zionism somewhere in there — but I recommend The Finkler Question only so that you can be entertained by it. Lawyerly life can get so busy, after all."

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