Howard Jacobson || J

Warning: this blog is going to contain serious spoilers. You’d better not read it if you want to be surprised. In any case: I have my doubts about this novel.

In J the world has survived a catastrophe that may not be named: IF WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. Reading on it becomes quite apparent that in the catastrophe all members of a race were annihilated. It also becomes quite clear very early on in the novel that Jacobson must be speaking of the Jews. In the aftermath of IWHIIH it has been decided that another such incident must be avoided by avoiding anything that can lead to stress, tension or hatred. So for a number of years people go around apologizing a lot, while they are only surrounded by pleasing things: novels, paintings, music. Nothing may jar, nothing may cause distress. Meantime in the homes of people and on the streets distress increases. People  who are not allowed to talk about what happened in the past and who are only allowed to enjoy nice things get a tendency to seek tension and violence. Snogging eg is never nice and soft, it usually involves a lot of drink and biting. Enter Ailinn and Kevern, two people who fall in love. Nothing wrong about that one would say, if it were not for the fact that they were joined together by Ez, a woman who believes that bringing back Jews to be hated again will resolve the problems society is facing. So she sets out to search for surviving Jews. Who she is, is only revealed towards the end of the number; then it also becomes clear why certain characters in the novel are spying on Kevern.

When Ailinn, who is an orphan, finds out about her origins she is in shock. In some kind of way Ez does seem to get trough to her however; at the end of the novel Ailinn is pregnant and about to start a new line of Jews to be hated. Kevern on the other hand is severely disturbed by finding out what he really is and does not for a moment believe that anything good will come out of this. He is upset with Ailinn for becoming pregnant, something they were both opposed against. At the end of the novel he commits suicide by jumping of a cliff.

In his novel Jacobson not once mentions the word Jews, his main character Kevern cannot even pronounce a word starting with J without putting a finger on his mouth. I must admit that this kind of annoys me. I can understand Jacobson wanting to be consistent describing this world in which stress must be avoided at all costs, I found myself increasingly thinking ‘do me a favour, we all know who you are talking about, out with it’.  Apparently I would not make a good inhabitant of this new society. I can live with this society Jacobson has created, I can imagine some fool thinking that this would be a good way to solve problems. I cannot live with the way Jacobson set out to write his novel however. I’m afraid it did nothing for me enjoying the novel. Added to this that Jacobson has tried to cram many words many minor characters telling many important things and many things happening in a mere 278 pages did not help. I would have preferred to read the double amount of pages if that had meant giving me time to understand what his characters were about and why they were absolutely necessary for his story. I certainly cannot forgive Jacobson for Ailinn being pregnant at the end of the novel. She sets out as a clever woman who knows what she is about and she lets herself be talked into getting pregnant in order to allow the nation to hate Jews once more? I find the mere fact of anyone agreeing to this role totally incredible, I find it to be a total inconsistency in character furthermore.

Before I started typing this blog I wondered whether Jacobson set out to annoy me this much, in which case he succeeded. If however he wanted me to enjoy a good novel about a society going about things in the wrong way he failed.  If ever I want to read such a novel again I will fall back on the golden oldies I was reminded of constantly whilst reading: Brave New World and 1984.

J

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About booksandliliane

I am an avid reader and love to share my love for literature. I have my own opinion on books that have been shortlisted, laureated by critics or are pushed on us by bookstores. I will try and explain why I like or do not like a book. Hopefully influencing you in your choice of books to read.
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