In a Radio 4 book club interview Jacobson said if you don’t get this book, it because you are thick. Now I am pretty sure he was joking because if he wasn’t I am thick, along with the rest of my book club. This book starts well, it is really funny, then it just becomes less of a novel and more a discussion about the nature of Jewishness.
Julian Treslove is an unsuccessful lookalike who is victim of a random mugging, but he soon becomes convinced that his attacker called him a Jew thereby believing that he is a victim of an anti-semitic attack despite not being Jewish. He becomes obsessed with the idea of becoming a Jew and a key reason for this is due to his jealousy of his successful ‘friend’ Sam Finkler who is an Alain de Botton type TV philosopher who writes books such as ‘The Glass Half Empty: Schopenhauer for Tenn binge Drinkers’. Their old pro-Israel school teacher Libor is grieving for the loss of his wife but unites the two rivals together. For Treslov,e the successful Finkler embodies everything about being a Jew or a Finkler, so he begins a quest to become a Jew and sleep with Jewish women, whereas Finkler joins a group for ASHamed Jews.
It deals with the issue of what it means to be a Jew and is highly ironic. It could only have been written by a Jew because I felt some parts with really close to the bone, and questions the nature of Judiaism and Zionism and issues such as Israel and anti-semitic attacks. In the end because the book is so long you begin to wonder what the point of it all is.
It won the Booker as the first comic novel to do so which is strange on two levels – one, its not a very good book, two, it is not that funny (apart from the beginning), there are hugely tragic elements here. Don’t be sucked in and ignore advice about it not being very good, thinking this can’t be right because it won the Booker. The general book club feeling was a thumbs down and that it was a emperor has no clothes type novel.