J, by Howard Jacobson: a book review

Product Details

‘Are we so precarious in our sense of self that the mere existence of difference throws us into molecular chaos?

Nobody can mention the genocide with the emotion it deserves and in J, this becomes the rather diluted refrain, WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED.  There is a maybe, a disregard for the facts of the past as, it is suggested,  they serve no purpose.  In Jacobson’s J, people live in the here and now.  There is much that is not forbidden and yet much that is frowned upon.  Keeping mementos, for example, immigration another.    Love songs play on the radio and a generation apologises repeatedly.  Everyone has something to be sorry for.

Except Kevern ‘Coco’ Cohen.  An obsessive, paranoic character, he keeps himself to himself, cherishing  his old records and furniture inherited from his family.  He lives in fear, without quite knowing what it is that he fears.

And then he meets Ailinn, or rather is led to meet her by someone who knows a little too much about them both.  Why is there so much interest in Kevern?  And why was the policeman called off his investigation of Kevern following a murder?  There are so many questions in J.

J is a fascinating read and one that, in many places leaves the reader wondering why?  Why was J a letter that needed to be marked by a silencing gesture?  Kevern’s surname surely cannot escape the reader and neither can the absence of Jewish words in the book.

Although sometimes the plot tumbles around and extracting meaning takes some thought because of the lack of details, I found myself wondering how much I needed to know?  I think that I had an expectation that everything would be made clear .  But in the end, the lack of details are symbolic of a society who believes it can be fixed through Operation Ischmael.  And like the absence of words in this novel, so the plot tells us that their society is also missing a vital something.  People need contrast in order to see themselves.

This is a thought provoking read; darker than it at first appears, I would certainly recommend this book.

(This book was a review copy from bloggingforbooks.com given in return for writing an independent review )

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