Monthly Archives: September 2011

‘The Finkler Question’ by Howard Jacobson

Last night I had the grand opportunity of attending a BBC World Book Club taping of an interview with Howard Jacobson. It was in the intimate Soho Theatre, downtown London.  I was right  in the front row, and I even got to ask him a question!
BBC World Book Club

The Finkler Question is a novel of ideas. It is the first comic novel to be chosen for the Man Booker Prize, but Jacobson himself says that it is more of a tragedy than a comedy. ‘Finkler’ substitutes for ‘Jewish’ and so ‘The Jewish Question’ becomes the title for a novel which plays with ideas about being Jewish. Comedy is serious business to Jacobson, a tool in pursuit of the serious. He himself calls ‘Finkler Question’ a “deeply serious novel that happens to make you laugh.” Reviewers are quite polarized on this book. They either love it or find it boring. When Jacobson was asked about this, he said it made perfect sense. “That’s how comedy is,” he said, ” a joke is either funny to you or it isn’t.”

There are three main characters in the novel. Sam Finkler is Jewish but places no value on that. He is unobservant and flippant. Julian Treslove is not Jewish but wants to be, and strives to embrace all things Jewish. The two are friends (and rivals). They often meet with an elderly former teacher called Libor who was my favourite character in the book. Warm and sympathetic, Libor grieves for the loss of his dear wife. He is the perfect antidote to the rival friends. Julian is mugged one night while walking home from dinner with Sam & Libor. It is a pivotal moment for Julian.

If I’m honest, I have to say that I didn’t enjoy reading this book very much. But when I heard Howard Jacobson speak, it enriched the novel for me and made me appreciate its literary value. Jacobson said when he writes a book, he writes till page 28 and if he likes it so far, then he’s got his book and keeps writing. My advice is, don’t buy this book. Borrow it or pick it up at Chapters (and find a comfy chair).  Read till page 28, and if you like it by then, keep going. I’m not giving you my copy because it’s signed. 🙂

‘A Route of Hope’ by Katie Ruth

Anyone who struggles, feels alone, suffers with anxiety or stress; I want to inspire these people to persevere and rest in the knowledge that we are never alone. I hope that my simple poems bring you a smile for the moments you feel unable to.”

There is courage in sharing a story which reveals weakness and vulnerability. Katie Ruth experienced a great deal of pain and anxiety after a mysterious episode that left her with memory loss. But she did not suffer in silence. She decided to tell her story of a journey back to wholeness and health, so that others could benefit. Writing poetry was instrumental in her healing process and her wish is that her words may help others achieve the same. I’ve heard it said, “let your mess become your message”. Katie Ruth has done that with grace and charm.

In the introduction to the book, Katie talks about the debilitating effects of the panic attacks which she suffered from. Having struggled with a few of these myself, I appreciated her honest description and her wise recommendations to others who may find themselves in her situation. Her poems are grouped according to themes:  Nature, Struggles, Pure Love, Perseverance, and Celebration.

Katie’s book is available through Amazon (.ca .com .uk) or Waterstones in the UK. She is donating a portion of her proceeds to an organization helping homeless street children in South Africa.