Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Finkler Question

Guest review by Organic Cheeseboard

The first thing that's worth saying about Jacobson's novel is how odd it is. There is more or less no 'story', to the extent that after reading each short 'part' I put it down, with no real desire to read on; the characterisation is all over the place and crashingly, stupidly unrealistic; much of the political discussion in the book will pass over the head of the average reader, who doesn't know the ins and outs of Zionism and the Middle East, but if you do know about all that it's weirdly simplistic; and for a comic novel it's really not funny at all. In and of itself it covers a lot of vaguely interesting ground, in terms of ideas, but it feels overwhemlingly like the product of a novelist with a few ideas trying desperately to shoehorn them all into a narrative. with that, it feels unedited - in my post-Booker-win copy there is at least one obvious spelling mistake - and it's very clear that, if it were edited, Jacobson was not challenged on a lot of it.

That's a shame, because there is the kernel of a good idea at its heart - a comparison of a philosemite gentile and an anti-Zionist Jew - but Jacobson doesn't seem all that interested in probing the issues around this, choosing to blame anti-Zionism on 'father issues' (to the extent of Finkler, the anti-Zionist, only ever dreaming about punching his father in the stomach - subtlety be damned) and philosemitism on a (it must be said incredibly weakly drawn) dissatisfaction with oneself and one's own family. And that genuinely is the sum total of Jacobson's analysis. There's also the problem that both characters are total dickheads who are, it is I think fair to say, of absolutely no interest to the reader. There are a lot of novels with anti-heroes, a lot of novels whose protagonists are flawed, but I'm struggling to remember a novel whose protagonists are more boring, and stereotyped, than this pair.

So, a couple of things about the world of the novel. It's clearly set in what is meant to be a fairly realist London - the areas around Regent and Oxford Street and St John's Wood are fairly well-presented, down to the shop that sprays perfume opposite Selfridges - but almost everything that happens in the world of the novel is completely unbelievable. Treslove, the philosemite, lives near Hampstead and is meant to be able to afford to take his two sons to Italy on a holiday, despite the fact that his only income is as a celebrity lookalike - and we're seriously meant to believe that he is a multi-purpose lookalike who is mistaken for Brad Pitt as well as Colin Firth (he's 49). I'm pretty sure Jacobson intends that as a joke about celebrity culture or soemthing, but we're also meant to believe in Treslove, and from the beginning, we don't (allied to this unbelievability is his previous occupation, as a producer of late-night arts programmes on Radio 3, a job he apparently 'fell into' on leaving University, where he did badly and didn't appear to do any student radio etc, without even trying). Then we have Finkler, a TV philosopher who writes books like Alain de Botton's. He's a bit better-drawn, possibly because the novel is a lot less close to him generally, but he's still totally unbelievable, largely because of the novel's politics (though not only that - he's meant to dislike all literature except 'Hamlet' yet he comes up with a fairly obscure anecdote about TS Eliot's playing Patience).

The poltics are, as I said in an earlier comment, really quite strange, and this again is linked to the 'realism' - or lack of. Britain in the book is, if not exactly a hotbed of antisemitism, then certainly a place where an awful lot of people have very extreme views. Jews in the novel are blinded in stabbings, and almost every young person in the novel (they are very weakly drawn) is at best a hardline anti-IsraelI loony, or at worst a holocaust denier who genuinely uses words like 'hepcat'. Jacobson's comment that he felt that Britain during Cast Lead seemed close to a Kristallnacht is undermined by a character dismissing this very analogy, but it's still not really realist in any sense, and anything problematic (eg what Israel actually did in Cast Lead) is just overlooked. Probably the single worst excess of this is Jacobson's reworking of 'Seven Jewish Children' (itself only antisemitic if you ignore its being a play, along with everything else about it) to become 'Sons of Abraham', a straightforward piece of tehjews = tehnazis antisemitism which, for some reason, one of the fairly conservative Jewish characters decides to make everyone else go to see on the basis of 'media controversy' - Jacobson's straining is so great at this point that he has to arbitrarily deny the reader the topic of the controversy so he can describe the fictional play in obsessive detail., to presumably shock and outrage us - but, again, it's just not realistic that any of the characters, including Finkler, would want to go to see it.

That's one of several instances where Jacobson completely abandons the novel as a work of art and just starts ranting. It's really embarrassing in places.

The novel is perhaps more politically balanced than many might expect.

But it's still really unbalanced.

The philosemite is a bit of a fool and doesn't think very hard about anything, but the anti-Zionists, including Finkler, are just plain idiots. This is why I have serious reservations about anyone taking this side of the novel's satire 'seriously' - as Nick Cohen certainly has - because it's just unbelievable that Finkler, who is vain but also fairly intelligent, would hang around with the 'ASHamed Jews' (sample core member? a bloke who spends every day of his life documenting, in a blog with photos, his attempts to grow his foreskin back). Finkler is their 'leader' and does lots of speaking gigs but we never - despite him having an awful lot of 'discussions' about Israel - find out what he actually thinks. I *think* the reason for this is that Jacobson wants to present him as fundamentallly confused between his own 'father issues' and his own desire for the spotlight, but still, it's really far away from reality.

Even more telling is the fact that the pro-Zionism characters barely speak at all - Jacobson seems to have deliberately not given this a voice. I can't help wondering if this is in order - as this is, ostensibly, a comic novel - to guide the reader into believing anti-Zionism so boneheaded and silly that only an idiot would believe in it. To his credit Jacobson makes one of them a teeny bit racist - believing arabic graffitI to be sinister, or something - but then again, she has reason to be, as along with the eye-stabbings etc, the Anglo-Jewish museum she's about to open is targetted by violent Gaza demonstrators who attack Treslove, and people who leave pork products around it during construction.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this novel, though, is just how uninteresting it is. The debates aren't ever played out in enough forensic detail to make them enjoyable - a marked contrast with with, say, the way J. M. Coetzee unites the personal and political in Elizabeth Costello. I get the strange feeling that, in trying to be 'serious' in what is still a comic novel (on which more in a second), Jacobson basically ends up being neither. He doesn't seem to have the courage of his convictions.

This is clearest in the ageing character, Libor, who has worked as a showbiz reporter in America (again, for some reason, this is totally underdone in the novel) and who manages to go out on dates with attractive young women despite being in his 90s. The book is, I tihnk, at root a tribute to the adaptability and perseverance of his generation of Jews, but here's a problem with that, too - the ageing character is incredibly dull, despite his fulfilling (and fulfilled) life. A contrast with Adam Thirlwell's 'Haffner', from The Escape, which came out last year, couldn't be more damning of Jacobson.

And it's here that I'll end it, where all comic novels either stand or fall.

With Jokes.

That's typical of Jacobson's style - a one-sentence paragraph, containing an unfunny punchline which he's clearly worked very hard on. Maybe the best example of the problems with comedy in the novel comes at the very beginning. Libor is describing a suicide pact at 'Bitchy 'Ead' - and Treslove doesn't understand that he means Beachy Head. This joke goes on for about a page and a half. But Treslove was taught by Libor when he was at school, and Libor has lived in the country ever since. There's literally no way that Treslove wouldn't be used to his accent by this point. and also, 'Beach = bitch' is just not funny. Then we get quips throughout like 'anyone who likes pre-raphaelite art is obsessed with dead women', and to be honest I couldn't even work out why Jacobson thought that was even funny.

Oh yes - one more thing. The novel is said, by its fans, to be about grief. The reason I've not focused on this is because not only is the treatment of grief deeply unconvincing, it's also desperately uninteresting. The narrative jumps around to flesh out the reasons for the various characters' grief, but it doesn't make sense. Treslove's 'great shame' is that he conducted a brief affair with Finkler's wife, and it's this truth that more or less causes his disintegration as a character near the end of the novel. Yet at the beginning he's at dinner with the other 2 men - both recently bereaved - and is jokingly referred to as a grief tourist. and it is this woman, Tyler Finkler, who is the hero of the novel - Jacobson hides another of his own diatribes in a letter from her - but she effectively 'teaches' Finkler everything he knows about Jewishness - and this comes, in the 'real-life' chronology, before her death. Oh and Tyler seems to not really like Finkler at all, at any point of her life. She's a believable character in everything other than the reason she's in the book.

To put it more simply, Jacobson intentionally withholds the information aboput Treslove and Mrs Finkler in order to generate a narrative of Treslove's increasing understanding of the problematics of British Jewishness - but at the cost of the novel as a whole.

Unbelievable, uninteresting and unfunny from beginning to end, I'm still utterly perplexed at why anyone thought it even worth of longlisting for the Booker. It looks a really stupid choice following 'Wolf Hall', and will look even more stupid when it's (hopefully) followed by Hollinghurst.

23 Comments:

Anonymous Al said...

OT, but over at HP, Michael Ezra is arguing in favour of the Vietnam War.

With two spambots.

http://hurryupharry.org/2011/01/06/from-the-vaults-the-washington-post-1963/#comments

1/06/2011 03:35:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

HP are never off-topic here, more's the pity...

1/06/2011 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger Chardonnay Chap said...

What I learned from HP today: the US didn't lose the Vietnam war, the South Vietnamese people did. This shines a new light on things!

Have none of you anything to say about OC's Finkler reivew?

1/06/2011 04:52:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Kerchings away, but:

to a certain extent, mentioning HP Sauce (and the world of decency) in relation to this novel is on topic. it's telling that the vast majority of those who gave the novel sympathetic reviews seem to be totally alied with Jacobson's political non-fiction - or alternatively, ot have ignored the novel's politics completely.

as I said at the time, HP Sauce would never have run a 'congrats tom McCarthy' headline had he won, and it's hard to see them liking the novel for any other reason than one branch of its satire. Nick Cohen totally misrepresented it when he claimed that the satire of the novel is 'reserved' for the 'ASHamed Jews' - it isn't, though it's at its weakest but clearest when dealing with them.

I also found an article by Jacobson in the JC from the summer where he admitted that we're meant to pathologise the characters in the manner I've done above - as he's a novelist, thus invented them, thus they're allowed to be presented in such a straightforward manner. That's genuinely his view.

just to reiterate, i don't understand how the novel even got close to the booker. EVeryitnhg about it confirmed my previously-held idea of him as a fundamentally middlebrow, lightweight novelist, with very few actual ideas.

1/06/2011 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger FlyingRodent said...

I'd formed the impression from reviews and an author interview that much of the book was a cack-handed and unsubtle pisstake of a vanishingly small political tendency. Cheeseboard seems to confirm this, so I'm a bit leery about glasshouses and stones here.

I've always found Jacobson to be a genial and entertaining guy, on the rare occasions I've caught him on TV or the radio, but his whole OMG this feels much like a British Kristallnacht trip a few years ago doesn't inspire confidence that he's now produced a work of perceptive and incisive political satire.

Although I was bewildered to find that as near as dammit, I share a surname with one of the main characters.

1/06/2011 05:31:00 PM  
Blogger ejh said...

Have none of you anything to say about OC's Finkler review?

In the absence of reading the book which it describes, no.

However, as I am on a lifetime program of reading the classics, I will no doubt catch up with it in thirty years or so.

Talking of kerching, I don't suppose...

1/06/2011 09:46:00 PM  
Anonymous skidmarx said...

Obviously as yours and China Mieville's are the only negative ones I've seen, I can only conclude that you are diverted from an honest appreciation of this masterwork by a subconscious attachment to the new anti-semitism.

Or I read an extract on HP's illiterate cousin,http://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2010/10/15/booker-prize-the-jacobson-question/, and was unimpressed with how clunking the prose was, but as with the WMDs in Iraq, I had been thinking with so many people believing in it, that there must be something there.

1/07/2011 01:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Michael Ezra said...

Chardonnay Chap,

I am glad that I can teach you some things you did not know.

1/08/2011 03:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

I reviewed it on HP:-

http://arts.hurryupharry.org/2010/12/26/get-a-move-on/

I'm more in sympathy with Jacobson's politics than the Cheeseboard but I found it a pretty dire novel - "all over the place" is what I thought too, and unfunny - basically a mess.

I read his Roots Schmoots and found some of that really funny, moving, instructive, sympathetic - unlike his novels. Jacobson is a good writer, but he isn't a good novelist.

1/08/2011 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cian said...

I thought the review was interesting, but like Justin I had no intention of reading the book.

The HP thread (I have a deadline, so I'm looking for any opportunity to procrastinate) had this sentence from Michael Ezra which I thought summed things up rather nicely:

As Paul Berman (Terror and Liberalism) and Nick Cohen (What’s Left?) have highlighted, a role of the left is to fight fascism

Its hard to escape the conclusion that for several on the Decent "Left" that's become a central point, and that the only other defining "leftwing" principles are a vague support of unions, and voting labour (and that voting labour is your "duty" as a left winger). The idea that opposition to capital, or taking particular stances against state/elite power might be key are probably completely alien to them.

1/09/2011 07:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Cian said...

Also fascinating in its rather morbid way is how Ezra's ideas seem to be entirely formed by reading neo-conservative ideologues, such as Adam Garfinkle. So he states that the Anti-war left were hated. His source: Adam Garfinkle. I mean seriously?

1/09/2011 08:01:00 AM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

Cheers rosie - I'd not seen that review as I don't tend to read much on HP Sauce.

I'm cheered to find that someone who's much more aligned with him politically still didn't like the book.

I'm also glad we agree that the problems stem from the characterisation - and ultimately from the weird way in which Jacobson tries to have his cake and eat it with the comic novel, asking us to sympathise fullly with characters who are completely ridiculous. As you say, the Libor-Treslove-Finkler 'friendship' is dwelt on ad nauseam but it's not interesting in the slightest.

you're right about Treslove's sons, too, though iirc it's his wives who give them these names - even more unbelievable than his own naming them.

they are not incorporated into its fabric but are pinned on it like badges.

I found this a real problem. Whatever you think of 7 jewish children, the reworking of it in the novel is nothing like the actual work (though it is quite a lot like Jacobson's unreasonable 'review' - of a work he never saw performed), and - fitting into the above, the characterisation, such as it is, makes it clear that there's pretty much no way that any of the characters in the novel would have gone to see it.

the worst character for me was 'Tyler', who more or less makes speeches by Howard Jacobson. she felt like se came from a totally different universe, not least cos she hated Finkler from first to last yet for some reason married and stayed with him. Am sure HJ was making 'a point' there but i dunno what.

I've no desire to read any more of his noivels, and - i hate to say it, but still - any of his other writing, either. He strikes me as a typical 'comic writer' in that he will always use 10 words when 2 would do, and in his political work he uses this length as a rhetorical device to obscure his prejudices, and his lack of anything really worthwhile to say.

As you post on HP Sauce a lot KB, I'd be interested to know what you made of the site's 'congratulations' to him, and banner with him on it which ran for a couple of months. Anyone who wins a prize deserves congrats, of course, but they'd never have run a post like that if the deserving tom McCarthy had won the booker.

and surely part of that reason is the misreading of the novel as purely an attack on anti-zionists. certainly the 'satire' is at its most open when dealing with them (though i agree, the only time it's actually funny is the blogger growing his foreskin back - but that's at the cost of any believability, there's no way on earth Finkler would even speak to a weirdo like that). But the satire is also on philosemites like, i dunno, Nick Cohen, he of 'jesus I'm turning into a Jew' fame. The fact that cohen loves the book is testament to his laziness, and the laziness of so many who read it.

flyingrodent - i THINK 'treslove' is meant as a joke, his infatuation with the tragic meaning that he has tres, ie too much, love. i found the bits - clearly intended to be hi-la-ri-ous - about his infatuation with dying women the most boring writing I've come across for ages.

1/09/2011 09:13:00 AM  
Anonymous Michael Ezra said...

Cian's point sums up what is wrong with the indecent left. He dismisses the decent left because they prioritise fighting fascism and cheers on those who take a stance against the state. It is exactly this sort of indecent thinking that led to the German Communist party in the early 1930s providing a unified support with the German Nazi party - united they were against imperialism. Who cares against fighting fascism when there are wider things at stake such as overthrowing the state? A little antisemitism? A little homophobia? Who cares? It might be of interest to the indecent left - but they wouldn't want any of that to be a shibboleth would they?


Cian also is incorrect that my opinions are solely from reading neoconservatives such as Adam Garfinkle. I have actually read a number of books on the Vietnam anti-war left, including some by those who have remained on the left such as Mark Rudd's relatively recent book, Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen. This excludes countless contemporaneous newspaper articles from newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. One anecdote from a journal article comes to mind: the radicals in the antiwar left were so detested that when 400 radical students were interviewed in the aftermath of the bloodshed at Kent State University, it was reported that "at least 25 per cent declared that they were told by their own parents that it might have been a good thing if they had been shot." (Lewis S. Feuer, "Student Unrest in the United States," Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 404, November 1972, p.175.)

One thing is quite clear: however much the Vietnam war was hated, the far left radical protesters were hated more. An honest assessment would also show that the radicals were not particularly effective. Mark Rudd acknowledges this in the preface of his memoirs: "In general we played into the hands of the FBI - our sworn enemies. We might as well have been on their payroll."

1/10/2011 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

"Tyler, Tyler" - I had to rack my brains to remember the character. The most forgettable characters I'd ever met. . .

I thought for 5 seconds or so about the "Treslove" - Tre for -(three) or tres (very), but it was one of those pointless puns that HJ loves.

I would guess that the congratulations were purely political. I doubt if 1 out of the 10 who were cheering had read the book and thought it was a really good novel. Of those who had read all 6 Booker novels and thought this deserved its prize, it must be 1 in 100,000. I said something sarcastic on those lines in the thread, I think, but all the comments are wiped.

During the Seven Jewish Children controversy I was abused all down a thread by suggesting, as taught in Lit Crit 101, that perhaps people could read the play (it's only 10 minutes after all) before condemning it. This was a novel and in fact insulting and sinister idea to many who comment there.

So, ideology 1, artistic merit 0.

1/10/2011 08:32:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeesboard said...

I thought for 5 seconds or so about the "Treslove" - Tre for -(three) or tres (very), but it was one of those pointless puns that HJ loves.

I thought the punning in the novel was really bad in general. Leo robson's review is good I think:

http://www.newstatesman.com/books/2010/08/finkler-novel-jacobson-libor

I'd forgotten the 'photograph - not together' quip - so many of the 'jokes' fall depressingly flat.

I would guess that the congratulations were purely political. I doubt if 1 out of the 10 who were cheering had read the book and thought it was a really good novel. Of those who had read all 6 Booker novels and thought this deserved its prize, it must be 1 in 100,000.

This isn't out of keeping with Decency in general, where admiration of writers/artists/whatever tends to be based primarily on their political allegiance (see David Toube's response to the death of Harold Pinter, or anything Nick Cohen's ever written about the arts). It's still pretty depresing though.

During the Seven Jewish Children controversy I was abused all down a thread by suggesting, as taught in Lit Crit 101, that perhaps people could read the play (it's only 10 minutes after all) before condemning it. This was a novel and in fact insulting and sinister idea to many who comment there.

It's not just limited to HP Sauce - from Jacobson's response it seems pretty clear that he's only skimmed the (as you say, very short and freely-available) play. it struck me at the time, and still does now, that the majority of those up in arms about it hadn't really paid any attention to its form or content but had decided it consisted of antisemitism and blood libels thanks to the responses of others who also hadn't read it properly. For example, Jacobson's description of Churchill's play bears an uncanny resenblance not to the play itself, but to the terrible-sounding fictional play in his novel. In the Decent universe, the play itself has become its reputation.

I don't think it's one of Churchill's best works by any means (HP Sauce being run by committed femininsts - allegedly - should have surely seen her at least given the time of day, given her prior work), and it's pretty one-sided in comparison with top Girls or something like that, but it contains zero blood libels and isn't antisemitic. David toube decided that one character saying 'tell her [a child who's watcinhg Cast Lead on TV] we're the chosen race' constituted clear and definite antisemitism, but it's just one character in a play's view - there are other, more moderate ones therein - and it's clearly a widespread opinion among the religious in Israel.

It's a bit like saying that Robert Browning is a misogynist for writing My Last Duchess.

It is, however, a remnant of the Anthony Julius school of criticism (though his book on Eliot is done a lot more professionally).

1/11/2011 09:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

The review you link to and the commenters seem to be underwhelmed by the book.

The attitude of Treslove to his sons is typical of the strange shifts of tone in the book. The fact that he can’t remember which one is which, or which one is the mother of which (I can’t remember the exact details and I may be wrong as I was about who named them after heroes of opera) is evidently supposed to be amusing. It might be if Treslove was in an Evelyn Waugh black comedy. But he is a central character carrying a weight of themes of grief and philo-semitism. He’s either a callous shit, and can’t do that, or he’s a comic figure, so similarly can’t do that. The sheer ineptness of this is exasperating.

I see what you mean about Jacobson’s humour - hyperbolic - but I think it does come off in his non-fiction. I did laugh at some passages in Roots Schmoots.

I don’t agree with you about Seven Jewish Children. The trajectory of the play, suffering Jews turn into sadistic Israelis, fits one kind of anti-Semitism. I reviewed the play here:-

http://rosiebell.typepad.com/rosiebell/2009/04/notes-on-seven-jewish-children.html

As for the ideological criticisms of the “Decents”, people have always found it easiest to do moral and ideological interpretations of works of the imagination since the time of Greek tragedy.

1/11/2011 08:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked James Wood's New Yorker review, which pulled this most bizarre of Booker Winners up on similar points. (I could only make sense of the victory as an example of a very specific, middle-aged, academic-journalistic delusionality about what it means to be "brave" in defending values and civilisation all that jazz. No I haven't read the book, a few fragments and interviews were more than enough to convince me only a mug would.)

it utterly didn't fudge its criticisms for sensitivity's sake, but also was so forensic in its literary contempt that you couldn't misrepresent it as yet another example of the envious rage of another terror-loving WASP Nazi. An eg follows; the full text is now subscribers-only:

Howard Jacobon’s “The Finkler Question” is an English Comic Novel, in this sense. It is always shouting, “I am funny.” Jacobson has a weakness for breaking into one-line paragraphs, so as to nudge the punch line on us. The effect is bullying, and, worse, bathetic: we have probably already predicted the joke by the time we reach its italicization. There is a delicious quality of overstatement in P. G. Wodehouse that Jacobson may be searching for, but Wodehouse’s exaggerations are sublime in part because they constitute a magical and separate universe that has its own laws and “codes.” Julian Treslove, the novel’s sad-sack hero, a forty-nine-year-old nebbish Gentile, suffers from a “sense of loss,” which is that all he has really wanted, all along, is to be a Jew. There is a secondhand quality to Jacobson’s portraiture: the outlines are garish rather than vivid. And Treslove’s admiring stupidity constantly pushes the representation of Jews and Jewishness toward caricature. This vision, in which Jews are God-like, and non-Jews must inevitably become either God-lovers or God-haters, has the functional utility of interpreting anti-Semitism as a twisted form of love, while by the same token suggesting that philo-Semitism is a twisted form of hate. The novel is ultimately politically fatalistic in similar ways. Needless to say, this is a decisively male and modern version of Jewishness, much influenced by the historic pugilism of Philip Roth’s weaker novels. It also appears to be Jacobson’s preferred version of both Jewishness and Jewish comic fiction. Forced down the funnel of a reductive brand of English comic writing, this vision issues in caricature."

-peter

1/12/2011 01:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those who haven't seen it, DA was entrenched at the FrontLine Club in a discussion about Wikileaks.

http://frontlineclub.com/events/2011/01/on-the-media-wikileaks---a-mirror-for-journalism.html

johnf

1/13/2011 08:38:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

You can find more of the James Wood here:

http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-13852882/Member-of-the-Tribe.html

I'm not always 100% won over by Wood, though he's a very good critic; but his problems with this novel are pretty well-argued and fit into a lot of mine and Rosie's problems with it - the 'no he didn't' bit in particular chimes for me.

I'd maybe take issue with this (the source i cited ends where Wood starts talking about Jewishness):

this is a decisively male and modern version of Jewishness

ultimately it is a very masculine novel, but i don't think Jacobson intended that. The characters he's clearly desperate for us to like are Hephzibah and Tyler, but they totally fail in believability, even more so than the men. It's clearly not intended to be a masculine novel; but it is.

Evidently Aaro's not reading HP Sauce as much as he used to, they're trying desperately to 'prove' that the Frontline is a neo-nazi hangout...

1/14/2011 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

"the outlines are garish rather than vivid"

Very accurate. James Wood is one of the best critics around on novels. Pity you have to pay to read him.

I hadn't thought of the "masculine" quality of the novel but I suppose it is like that, like Martin Amis's novels are. As much as they try and pump up something with a female name into being a character she always springs a leak and disappears into a few rags of rubber.

1/14/2011 10:36:00 PM  
Anonymous organic cheeseboard said...

I like "merely cartoonish, without ever coming to life as cartoons"...

the problem a lot of these ageing novelists like hj and amis have is that their strengths are in "masculine" writing, and they want to write about male weakness - men are hardly heroic in anything by amis, for instance.

but both of them know the accusations that leads to (and has indeed led to, in amis's case), and both of them consider themselves to be feminists (despite not having followed any feminist movements or thinking since the 70s, and despite their sum total of thinking on this being "men are all idiots" which was never really the whole point). as such they end up either with female characters as weirdly underwritten blank canvases (as in London fields) or as underwritten ultra-wise saviours, invariably beautiful, who are right about everything, as in tfq...

1/15/2011 10:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Rosie said...

Yeah, Amis's calling for a gynocracy - cos women are so much nicer and sweeter than men - makes me want to kick him. In fact, when this gynocracy is established, I shall do that. (Beware of what you wish for.) His father, an anti-feminist, was a far better creator of female characters.

1/15/2011 12:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarah AB said...

I'm someone else who, like Rosie, hangs out/writes occasional posts for HP, yet found the novel slightly wearisome. I tend to be broadly in sympathy with HJ on I/P related matters (though he often expresses himself more strongly and certainly than I would I suppose.)

I disagreed with those who made 7JC out to be crudely antisemitic and artistically bad - I thought it was quite interesting and subtle. I've taught it a couple of times and there's plenty to discuss and argue over. The fact you can divide lines up between speakers as you wish allows for some disturbing readings though. I'm inclined to agree with those who object to it - but I think the problems are a bit more subtle than some allow.

1/15/2011 07:19:00 PM  

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