At last another novel that I can whole-heartedly recommend. J by Howard Jacobson [Alas, I cannot do the necessary double cross, you need to read the book to know what I am talking about]. The dust jacket design gives you a clue, it is not accidental.
This endorsement may surprise my regular followers, to date I have not been a huge fan of Mr Jacobson. I simply do not get his humour, though I appreciate his writing. Here the forbidden territories are numerous and mysterious. SOMETHING HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. Whether this was a natural catastrophe, a national disaster or a global disaster the reader cannot be quite sure. Seemingly, WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED led to a diaspora of sorts, though everyone involved in OPERATION ISHMAEL [all these capitals are Howard Jacobson’s] seems to have been under a strict omerta, and also all of them have had a change of surname.
Our story revolves around two characters: Kevern Cohen and Ailinn Solomons, they meet, having been introduced by an unknown person whom strangely neither of them know, and they fall in love. They are both of them slightly at odds with society, both of them are deeply suspicious of other people. Kevern’s unease manifests itself by a compulsive security routine and Ailinn’s is less concrete, she has an obsession that she is being pursued, like Ahab and the White Whale, but she identifies herself with the whale, her horror is Ahab.
Why this should be so is revealed slowly, almost tortuously through secret service reports and interested neighbours, but why they should be so interested in these two remains a mystery, until the reveal at the very end of the book. Another character to watch in the oddly named Densdell Kroplik, the sort of person who sits too near you on the underground…the very oddness of their names, nearly but not quite, like names we are familiar with (Kevern for Kevin for example) puts the reader slightly off balance, which reflects the situation of the characters in the novel.
The whole novel is a rattlebag of deliciously weird, manipulative and fascinating characters, many of them with an agenda involving our lovers. This will surely appear on the shortlist, whether it will topple Mr Mukerjee off my winner’s podium (to date) remains to be seen.