A heavyweight literary award goes to a book that is actually funny. Will wonders never cease?
Howard Jacobson’s exploration of Jewishness, TheFinkler
Question, became the first unashamedly comic novel to win the Man Booker prize in its 42-year history.
HOWARD Jacobson’s (pic) laugh-out-loud exploration of Jewishness, The Finkler Question, on Tuesday became the first unashamedly comic novel to win the Man Booker prize in its 42-year history.
There will be cries of “about time too” for a funny and warm writer, now 68, who has long been highly regarded but unrewarded when it comes to major literary prizes. The 2010 Booker Prize chairman, Sir Andrew Motion, said it was “quite amazing” that this was the first time Jacobson had been shortlisted. But he was not, in any way, being rewarded because it was his turn.
“It never came into our minds,” he said. “It won because it was the best book.”
Motion agreed it could be called a comic novel but said it was much more. It was “absolutely a book for grown-ups, for people who understand that comedy and tragedy are linked”.
It will be a sweet victory for the Manchester-born Jacobson, who lamented just last weekend in British newspaper The Guardian the fact that comic fiction was not taken more seriously. “There is a fear of comedy in the novel today,” he wrote. “When did you last see the word ‘funny’ on the jacket of a serious novel?”
Motion said times were changing and while he would go to music gigs when young, his children now go to comedy gigs. Having said all that, The Finkler Question should not, he said, be seen as something that was “relentlessly middle-brow, or easy-peasy” because it was comic. “It is much cleverer and more complicated. Several people have used the word wise, and that’s a good word.”
The book – Jacobson’s 11th – follows the lives of three friends, Julian Treslove, Sam Finkler and Libor Sevick, and tackles not just what it is to be a British Jew, but also the nature of friendship itself.
Published by Bloomsbury, it beat a strong field including a novel that had unexpectedly and surprisingly become odds-on favourite with British bookmakers. Ladbroke’s even stopped taking bets last week because of the betting patterns surrounding Tom McCarthy’s C. The others that missed out were Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, Damon Galgut’s In A Strange Room, Emma Donoghue’s Room and Peter Carey’s Olivier And Parrot In America.
Jacobson’s victory means he is Howard Jacobson’s
is the first comedy to scoop one of the Englishspeaking world’s most coveted literary awards, the Man Booker Prize. – Reuters the oldest winner since William Golding won in 1980, aged 69, for Rites Of Passage.
The judges were much brisker than in previous years in taking just an hour to agree Jacobson should win, with a 3-2 split.
“It was a pretty intense hour. It wasn’t unanimous but it was a decision that everybody is entirely happy with,” said Motion. He declined to say which side he was on or which book just missed out. He did, though, reveal that the one book that narrowly missed out on making the shortlist was Alan Warner’s The Stars In The Bright Sky.
The judges, who this year also included dancer Deborah Bull, journalist Rosie Blau, broadcaster Tom Sutcliffe and writer Frances Wilson, read more than 140 novels before discarding books by big hitters including Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie.
Winning the Man Booker means £50,000 (RM247,000) in the bank for Jacobson – but more importantly, it will guarantee an extremely healthy spike in sales. – Guardian Newspapers Limited