Friday, 9 March 2012
Not So Much Devouring Books: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
So, I think the fact that I was able to just put this book aside, without guilt or shame, was a fairly big achievement. That it wasn't a book that I had to read helped (Tristram Shandy was a book I was meant to read for Uni) but I feel like I'm growing, and being able to make the decision not to waste my time on a book that I can barely be bothered to force myself to read. Having said that, I don't just want to give books up for no good reason, and for not reading The Finkler Question I did have (what I thought) were very good reasons!
So, my expectations for this book were raised to impossibly high levels just by glancing at the front and back covers. For starters, it won the Booker prize, which I hear is a pretty big deal (plus I know that Salman Rushdie won it at least twice, and hey, I love him, so I trusted the judgement of whoever judges such things) and, well, someone from The Guardian said this: "Like Shakespeare, only more so." At which I raised an eyebrow and said nothing, but to which I now, having read a whole, ooh, 90 pages, say PAHAHAHA, are you kidding me?! What does that even mean?! That this is the novel Shakespeare would have written if he had written novels? Firstly, er no; and secondly, don't book reviewers get silly when confronted with Booker prize winners!
They do. And here's the thing with this book. I know it's a comic novel, and so you can't take the characters too seriously and blah blah blah, but does that mean that you're meant to actively hate the characters? Because I really did- or at least I hated Julian, the main and possibly most annoying character you've ever met. And I realise that he's meant to be annoying- he's all sentimental and ridiculous about everything, but what this essentially added up to, for me, was that he's basically a giant sexist. Because Julian gets mugged by *GASP* a woman, and rather than just being upset, or annoyed, that he has been mugged, he's more upset that he's been mugged by a woman- NOT because he feels emasculated (that would be sort of understandableish, albeit still annoying) but that a woman could do such a thing. That kind of assumption, that all women have to be of one type and it's unthinkable that they could do anything else really really bugs me (although I'm not condoning mugging. Obviously.)
So anyway. There's also the fact that there are no female characters (and I'm not exaggerating here) in the 90 pages I read, other than the mugger, and memories of Julian's two friends' wives, who are both dead. I didn't see this changing anytime soon, and while I'm not incapable of reading a book with no female characters (or no interesting ones, anyway) this didn't help when combined with the other problems I had with the book. And here's another one: I feel like maybe if I was a recently widowed 50 year old man, I'd feel inspired to read on and, you know, learn the lessons that this book wanted to teach me (and hey, maybe even find those 'laughs' that it also promises) BUT really great literature should appeal universally, and not just to a niche group of readers. I just really couldn't connect with any of the characters, and sure, that's because basically everything about them was different to me, but surely Jacobson should have created the connection to them, because, you know, that's what great writers are supposed to do. I couldn't laugh at them, nor could I connect to them, and as a result I was utterly bored by them.
I can't really say anything else about it because the one disadvantage of not finishing books is that you just don't know- if they get better, what develops, if an awesome female character comes along and slaps some sense into them... So, yeah, there's that, but honestly, I'd rather spend my time reading something else, that I'm actually going to enjoy. And that, my friends, is what's known as growing. My only dilemma now is whether or not to count it in my Off the Shelf challenge because it was, you know, off the shelf, and now is permanently. Thoughts? And hey, have you read this book and want to defend it/tell me it gets way better? Please feel free to, you know where!