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Review: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (with audio & book club notes)

18 May

The Finkler QuestionMy rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary via Goodreads.com:

Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular and disappointed BBC worker, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they’ve never quite lost touch with each other – or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czechoslovakian always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results.

Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor’s grand, central London apartment. It’s a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you had less to mourn?

Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends’ losses. And it’s that very evening, at exactly 11:30pm, as Treslove hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country as he walks home, that he is attacked. After this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

OK, I just didn’t get it. I didn’t care about any of the characters or their struggles. If the people had been interesting or even pleasant, then I could have bought into the search for Jewish identity. If the struggle to define identity as a Jew (or a Jewish wannabee) had seemed more universal, then I could have forgiven the abrasiveness of the characters.

As it was, there was no hook to get me into the story, and I remained uninterested until the end.  (And then the end didn’t really make sense, but I didn’t care.  I was simply relieved to be done.)

But was it a bad book?  I haven’t a clue. I’m not going to try to judge this one objectively.  Certainly, the words were all put together in the correct order, there were characters with very distict POVs (even if they seemed quite flat to me), there was a deeper issue being examined…  and enough people saw enough in the book to award it The Booker Prize.

I still didn’t like it.

(My experience with The Finkler Question prompted me to post a discussion of my experience with literary prize winning books.  Please check it out and tell me what you think.)

Audio Notes

Narrator: I think Steven Crossley did a good job with difficult material.

Production: I didn’t notice any issues.

Audio vs. Print: Although I don’t think I would have liked this book much better in print than I did in audio (and my book club discussion confirms this thought), it does have one characteristic that doesn’t lend to an enjoyable audiobook experience for me.  I’ve noticed that I have a much harder time with unlikeable main characters in audio than in print.  I think the issue is that I feel like I’m spending time with someone when I listen to them talk.  Add this to the fact that it takes much longer to get through an audio book than I print book, and I think print would have been a better choice for me.

Book Club Notes

I read The Finkler Question for one of my book clubs.  There were five of us at the meeting.  I’m the only one that had finished reading it.  Three others had made it most of the way through, as well as one other member that couldn’t attend .  I discussed it with her later.  None of us liked it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the kind of dislike that leads to a good, spirited discussion.  We all didn’t get what the appeal was, and just couldn’t get up much interest in any aspect of it.  We discussed the one scene that we did find funny, the pros and cons of the various characters, the universality (or lack thereof) of the question of Jewish identity. We glanced over the discussion questions one group member had printed out before giving up and going on to catch upon each others lives.  The total book discussion time was about 30 minutes.

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5 Comments

Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Book Club, books, M, reviews

 

Tags: , , , ,

5 responses to “Review: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (with audio & book club notes)

  1. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books

    May 18, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    I started THE FINKLER QUESTION, but put it down and haven’t yet returned to it. I think it might take a book group to get me to pick it up again.

    (fun/ny review, I liked especially “the words were all put together in the right order”) Thanks for the smile, Laura!

     
  2. Barbara

    September 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    My book club is reading The Finkler Question. I have finished it and am
    recommending it. Superficially it has comic overtones but is actually
    a pithy, thought provoking novel. I question if the reader is not Jewish
    if he (she) can understand the question of identity and loss that is
    underlying many Jews’ fears. I know this sounds particular even though Jacobson’s themes are universal but perhaps that explains why some
    readers just don’t get it.

     
    • Laura

      September 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm

      I had wondered about that, but the Jewish members of my book club didn’t get the appeal any more than the rest of us. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and were able to see the value of it.

       

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