Quick Book Review: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (DNF)

The Finkler Question by Howard JacobsonOne of the members of my book group had bought this book but had not get round to reading it, so she suggested it for our next meeting. I was curious about the book and the others were happy to read it too, and so we did.

Or at least, I read until about 2/3 of the book and then I had enough of it.

This book is about a middle-aged man, Julian Treslove. He used to work for the BBC but now he is a celebrity look-alike. His best friend back from when they were young is Sam Finkler, and together they befriended their mentor Libor Sevcik. Both Finkler and Sevcik are Jewish and Julian has always been fascinated by their Jewishness.

One night, on the way back from a party at Sevcik’s house, Julian is attacked and robbed in the street by a woman. The woman says something to him which sounds like “You, Jules!” (his mother’s nickname for him) but could also have been “You, Jew.” He becomes obsessed with the idea that he might look Jewish and investigates whether he has Jewish ancestors.

Sam Finkler, meanwhile, doesn’t live much of a Jewish life. In fact, he joins the ASHamed Jews, a group of people who are not happy about what is happening in Israel.

I didn’t get further than about 2/3 in the book, as the whole obsession of Treslove with Jewishness was getting too much for me. And that while I loved Chaim Potok‘s books that are absolutely full of Jewishness. Granted, it was many years ago that I read those books, but I think it’s not so much the amount of Jewishness but the obsession itself that I started to tire of.

While the book had some funny parts, it was sometimes too silly. Regularly there were conversations between people in which someone misunderstood the other, whether on purpose or not (“‘Come over’, he said, ‘I’ll order in Chinese’. ‘You speak Chinese now?'” [page 41]). It’s funny if it appears some of the time, but these kinds of conversations happened too often for my liking.

As it turned out, only one or two people in my book group finished the book. The others couldn’t get through it either.

Rating: No rating, did not finish the book

Number of pages: 312 (read to page 200)

First published: 2010

Genre: contemporary fiction

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at bookhelpline.com. In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

18 Responses to Quick Book Review: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (DNF)

  1. Laura says:

    I couldn’t get through this one either! You got further than me though, I think I stopped after 90 pages of nothingness… My main problem was, I know Julian was supposed to be unlikeable, but he was SO unlikeable and irritating that I just couldn’t!

  2. This reminds me of Philip Roth, he has some books with really unlikeable characters and a lot of Jewishness, which in itself is ok, but not when it dominates everything else.
    So, I will skip this one, Judith.

  3. heavenali says:

    Well I did finish it – but I found it hard work – and rather tedious. I thought the author captured London beautifully – in a similar way to how Anita Brookner captures the city – but I couldn’t really work out what he was trying to say at all. I didn’t like most of the the characters. I am in the process (it’s taking a long time) of reading all the books that have ever won the booker prize. It seemed an achievable list. I have about ten or so to go – and the last few years I have read the winner either just before (from the shortlist) or just after the prize was awarded. I suppose I am just interested in what makes a prize winner – why some books and not others. When a book like this wins – it makes me question the validity of the prize, as this book is just such a “booker book” it isn’t that accessible and the fact it beat Room to me is crazy. It is as if a compelling page turner , that has sold massively and is also wonderfully well written isn’t allowed to win. I have met quite alot of people who have read The Finkler Question – and I have yet to meet one person who said they liked it.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Good for you to read all the Booker books, Ali! I hope you don’t find that most of them are as inaccessible as this one. I can’t believe it beat Room! I loved that book. You can but wonder how they choose the books…

  4. I don’t know anyone who has finished this book… I tried too! I like to read the Pulitzer (fiction) every year. Doesn’t this make you wonder why they weren’t able to pick a winner this year?!!

  5. parrish lantern says:

    This won the man booker prize in 2010. Probably one of the reasons I’ve not read it, as it beat a book I wanted to win Tom McCarthy’s C, a lousy reason for nor reading a book, but it never appealed anyway so it’s the reason I use :o}

    • Leeswammes says:

      Right you are, Gary. The book didn’t appeal to me but since my book group wanted to read it… I haven’t read C, but that *is *a book I’m interested in reading!

  6. Lu says:

    Every review I have seen of this book has been negative. I don’t understand how it won so many awards!!!

  7. I couldn’t finish it either. Those silly conversations really irritated me too. Congratulations on making it most of the way through – I gave up much earlier.

  8. Thanks for this. I’d seen it around. I’m sometimes in the mood for reading someone with a totally unusual way of thinking, but I don’t think I’d have much fun reading the point of view of someone with an obsession.

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