Two wickedly funny jokes run through The Finkler Question. Both of them are deeply personal to the author.
The first is Howard Jacobson’s satiric take on the many wholly disaffected Jews in public life who make it their life’s work to loathe Israel with quite indecent passion.
The second — whose nuances may be absolutely clear only to Jewish readers — is that Sam Finkler’s co anti-hero, Julian Treslove, is in the place where Jews have been throughout history:
He is the non-Jewish outsider desperate to be accepted in Jewish circles. No wonder that in reality Jacobson finds himself forever “to be on the outside of every thing.”
I muse on this in a week in which "life has imitated art imitating life" as the author was heard twice in six days on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs – the programme on which Finkler betrays Israel as well as a taste in music which displeases his wife.
Possibly by prior agreement, presenter Kirsty Young did not mention Israel during the real-life interview, but whatever the reason I find this strange as Jacobson is a most able, stoic defender of the Jewish State when so many of his Jewish colleagues and friends seem bent on its destruction.
He is also supposed to be the first comic writer to win the Man Booker Prize since Kingsley Amis. He is certainly the first to do it with a Jewish story.
Is this why so many reviews have used the book as a platform for airing Jewish jokes? Or is it because the reviewers find the subject too uncomfortable to treat it with real gravity?
It is after all by turns hysterically funny, deeply sad, very wise, sometimes tedious — and gratuitously filthy.