Howard Jacobson is always a sparkling writer, but to claim that The Finkler Question was “the first comic novel to win the Booker”, as the critics were saying, is to miss its point entirely. Comic novels have won before and however light his touch and sharp his observations Jacobson’s latest is hardly a laugh riot.
His main themes are Jewishness, antisemitic violence and men’s relations with women, in particular the disorientation men feel when the love of their life dies. Like other authors feminists accused of misogyny a generation back, Jacobson’s hatred of pretence turned out to be a blessing in the long run, as it was always going to.
He writes about sex and loss with more poignancy than his PC contemporaries have managed and allows his satirical talent to feast itself on one plump target only.
The butt of his humour is a group so ostentatiously righteous that few commentating on the Booker mentioned Jacobson’s attack. I don’t know if literary journalists were baffled or unable to handle a delicate subject. For whatever reason, they refused to describe how he reserved his mockery for Jewish celebrities who respond to radical Islamists pumping the hatreds of fascism and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion back into Europe by crying: “I’m not Spartacus, don’t pick on me.”