Friday, February 25, 2011



In this smart, contemporary tale two aging men cope, or fail to cope, with the loss of their wives and their identities. The third man doesn't have either one, but he too mourns.


The men in this book find themselves at loose ends. They have lost their footing, or else they never had it in the first place. Julian Treslove grasps for a sense of self and decides that being Jewish is his strongest source of identity, despite the fact that he is not actually a Jew. Sam Finkler is a Jew, but he struggles to separate himself from 'them' and flounders. Libor just misses his wife and mistrusts the tenuous safety of the Jews in Britain.

I did not like Treslove at all, though I am not convinced that you are supposed to like the protagonist in this story. Everyone needs something to ground them, and I found Treslove's way of swirling and eddying through life infuriating. However, his assumptions about and encounters with Jewishness are thought-provoking, revealing the complexity of the modern Jewish (Finkler) question.

Jacobson is at the top of his game in this book, which earned him the Man Booker Prize in 2010. The writing style is clever, poetic, and often funny. He explores themes of grief, jealousy, aging, and collective guilt. The story did not feel resolved in the end, probably because the complexities of the issues cannot be tied up into neat little packages.


Profile on the Booker Prize site: Howard Jacobson


I borrowed this book from a friend in paperback format.


Where do you get your sense of identity? Relationships? Nationality? Religion?


  1. This one sounds very interesting. Always a challenge when you don't like a character, but if you make it through, sometimes you end up getting more out the a book.

  2. This is one that's awaiting my attention. I started it but got distracted by more pressing reads. Thanks for the review, will get to it soon and see what I think :)

    Where do I get my sense of identity? I think mainly relationships - both with people and with places. I'm born in England, grew up in NZ and currently live in Taiwan, so every time I move I find out something new about myself. Religion plays a very minimal part in my identity because I view any relationship I have with what I think of as God to be an entirely personal thing that I'm working out on my own which has nothing to do with anyone else. It shapes me internally perhaps but identity strikes me as a sense of self that interacts with the external world.

  3. I've been wanting to read this one for a while.

    My sense of identity has always been wound up with who I am to others. Daughter. Mother. Wife. Stay at home mom. I never finished college. I've never really worked (besides a 6 month stint I absolutely despised). So, I've never had this carved out sense of identity. Rather , it's always seemed fluid...apt to change dependent on the situation. When the time calls for it I'm assertive, when it doesn't, I'm complacent. At 32, I'm searching for a sense of cohesion in who I am instead of a bunch of disjointed portraits.

  4. Thank you for your very thoughtful comments.

    Kathmeista and Jennifer, I think it is interesting that you both mention other people to help define yourselves. At our core we're social beings, and it seems we need to connect with others in order to figure ourselves out. This seemed to be Treslove's problem in the book, and he tried to join another culture to remedy his difficulties with connecting to people.

    Fortunately there's no expiration date on identity and discovering it can be an ongoing process.

  5. Hello. I found you on blog farm and I am following you. Will you follow me as well?


  6. I really disliked this. I didn't engage with any of the characters and although it was midly amusing in my view it wasn't the best of the Man Booker shortlist. I loved Andrea Levy's The Long Song and would have liked that to win!

  7. I agree that it was hard to like the characters in this book. I haven't read The Long Song yet, but I liked Small Island quite a lot.


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