Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Funny Old Booker

Howard Jacobsen was a bit of a surprise to make the shortlist with "The Finkler Question", and unquestionably he was a bit of a surprise as this year's winner. Partly because the Booker doesn't, apparently, "do", funny books. Yet it sometimes does, sometimes did. David Lodge seemed to be regularly in contention; Julian Barnes made the shortlist with the humorous "England, England" one of his weakest novels; Roddy Doyle won with "Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha" and of course early winner J.G. Farrell also won "the Lost Booker" recently. Clearly comic writers will be gutted that funny doesn't mean, ignorable.

I saw him read from "The Finkler Question" recently - a very small crowd, but one that were mostly fans. This is a writer who people stick to, once they read, and even if this is not the long service award that Booker prizes sometimes go for in weaker years, I'm sure there's something of that consistency which has upped his profile. In questions after his reading, he said as much. Though I remember no great excitement when it came out, "Kalooki Nights" is now being referred to as his great book. Inevitably it didn't get onto the shortlist. So a quirky winner, a worthy winner and, having not read the shortlist yet, possibly the correct one as well; yet having given David Mitchell's wonderful "Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" the heave ho from the longlist, the judges probably still have some explaining to do.

Jacobsen was born in North Manchester, yet his Mancunian credentials have always been a little hidden, despite setting works like "The Mighty Waltzer" here. I think he's the first Manchester winner - and I'm sure the city will embrace him now, if it hasn't done so much before. Aged 68, he's the oldest winner for a good few years, and that's probably a nice counterpoint to debut novelists. Like that other comic Jewish writer, Philip Roth, age appears to have suited his writing.

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