Howard Jacobson

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Howard Jacobson
Born
  • (1942-08-25) 25 August 1942 (age 71)
  • Manchester, England
Occupation Novelist, columnist, broadcaster
Nationality British
Period 1983–present
Genre Biographical
Subject Jewishness, Humour
Notable awards Man Booker Prize (2010)
Spouse Rosalin Sadler (1965-95) (divorced)
Jenny De Yong (m. 2005)

Howard Jacobson (born 25 August 1942) is a Man Booker Prize-winning British author and journalist. He is best known for writing comic novels that often revolve around the dilemmas of British Jewish characters.

Background[edit]

Jacobson was born in Manchester, raised in Prestwich, and was educated at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield,[1] before going on to study English at Downing College, Cambridge under F. R. Leavis.[2] He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to England to teach at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His later teaching posts included a period at Wolverhampton Polytechnic from 1974 to 1980.[3]

Although Jacobson has described himself as "a Jewish Jane Austen" (in response to being described as "the English Phillip Roth"),[4] he also states, "I'm not by any means conventionally Jewish. I don't go to shul. What I feel is that I have a Jewish mind, I have a Jewish intelligence. I feel linked to previous Jewish minds of the past. I don't know what kind of trouble this gets somebody into, a disputatious mind. What a Jew is has been made by the experience of 5,000 years, that's what shapes the Jewish sense of humour, that's what shaped Jewish pugnacity or tenaciousness." He maintains that "comedy is a very important part of what I do."[5]

Jacobson married his first wife when he was 22. He married his second wife, Rosalin Sadler, in 1965; they divorced in 1995. In 2005, Jacobson was married for the third time, to radio and TV documentary maker Jenny De Yong. He stated, "My last wife. I'm home, it's right".[6][7]

Writing career[edit]

His time at Wolverhampton was to form the basis of his first novel, Coming from Behind, a campus comedy about a failing polytechnic that plans to merge facilities with a local football club. The episode of teaching in a football stadium in the novel is, according to Jacobson in a 1985 BBC interview, the only portion of the novel based on a true incident. He also wrote a travel book in 1987, titled In the Land of Oz, which was researched during his time as a visiting academic in Sydney.

His fiction, particularly in the six novels he has published since 1998, is characterised chiefly by a discursive and humorous style. Recurring subjects in his work include male–female relations and the Jewish experience in Britain in the mid- to late-20th century. He has been compared to prominent Jewish-American novelists such as Philip Roth, in particular for his habit of creating doppelgängers of himself in his fiction.

His 1999 novel The Mighty Walzer, about a teenage table tennis champion, won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic writing.[8] It is set in the Manchester of the 1950s and Jacobson, himself a table tennis fan in his teenage years, admits that there is more than an element of autobiography in it.[5] His 2002 novel Who's Sorry Now? – the central character of which is a Jewish luggage baron of South London – and his 2006 novel Kalooki Nights were longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Jacobson described Kalooki Nights as "the most Jewish novel that has ever been written by anybody, anywhere".[9] It won the 2007 JQ Wingate Prize.[10]

As well as writing fiction, he also contributes a weekly column for The Independent newspaper as an op-ed writer. In recent times, he has, on several occasions, attacked anti-Israel boycotts, and for this reason has been labelled a "liberal Zionist".[11]

In October 2010 Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Finkler Question, which was the first comic novel to win the prize since Kingsley Amis's The Old Devils in 1986.[12] The book, published by Bloomsbury, explores what it means to be Jewish today and is also about "love, loss and male friendship".[13] Andrew Motion, the chair of the judges, said: "The Finkler Question is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle. It is all that it seems to be and much more than it seems to be. A completely worthy winner of this great prize."[13] His novel Zoo Time won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize (2013), Jacobson's second time winning the prize (the first in 1999 for The Mighty Walzer).[14]

Broadcasting[edit]

He has also worked as a broadcaster. Two recent television programmes include Channel 4's Howard Jacobson Takes on the Turner, in 2000, and The South Bank Show in 2002 featured an edition entitled "Why the Novel Matters". An earlier profile went out in the series in 1999 and a television documentary entitled "My Son the Novelist" preceded it as part of the Arena series in 1985.[15] His two non-fiction books – Roots Schmoots: Journeys Among Jews (1993) and Seriously Funny: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime (1997) – were turned into television series.

In 2010 Jacobson presented Creation, the first part of the Channel 4 series The Bible: A History.[16]

On 3 November 2010, Jacobson appeared in an Intelligence Squared debate (stop bashing Christians, Britain is becoming an anti-Christian country) in favour of the motion.[17]

On 6 February 2011 Jacobson appeared on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs. His musical choices included works by J. S. Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Louis Armstrong as well as the rare 1964 single Look at Me by The Whirlwinds. His favourite was You’re a Sweetheart by Al Bowlly with Lew Stone and His Band.[18]

Bibliography[edit]

Fiction
  • Coming From Behind, Chatto & Windus, 1983
  • Peeping Tom, Chatto & Windus, 1984
  • Redback, Bantam, 1986
  • The Very Model of a Man, Viking, 1992
  • No More Mister Nice Guy, Cape, 1998
  • The Mighty Walzer, Cape, 1999
  • Who's Sorry Now?, Cape, 2002
  • The Making of Henry, Cape, 2004
  • Kalooki Nights, Cape, 2006
  • The Act of Love, Cape, 2008
  • The Finkler Question, Bloomsbury, 2010 (Winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize) ISBN 978-1-4088-0910-5
  • Zoo Time, Bloomsbury, 2012
  • J, Bloomsbury, 2014 (longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize)
Non-fiction
  • Shakespeare's Magnanimity: Four Tragic Heroes, Their Friends and Families (co-author with Wilbur Sanders), Chatto & Windus, 1978
  • In the Land of Oz, Hamish Hamilton, 1987
  • Roots Schmoots: Journeys Among Jews, Viking, 1993
  • Seriously Funny: From the Ridiculous to the Sublime, Viking, 1997
  • Whatever It Is, I Don't Like It, Bloomsbury, 2011

References[edit]

  1. ^ Anon (13 October 2010). "Howard Jacobson wins the Booker Prize - and thanks his Whitefield school". Manchester Evening News (MEN media). Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  2. ^ Pearson, Allison (27 April 2003). "Howard Jacobson". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group). Retrieved 12 October 2010. 
  3. ^ International who's who of authors and writers, London: Europa Publications, 2003, p.271
  4. ^ Brown, Mark (12 October 2010). "Howard Jacobson wins Booker prize 2010 for The Finkler Question". The Guardian (London: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 12 October 2010. 
  5. ^ a b Manus, Elizabeth. "Something Jewish: "Howard Jacobson Interview"". Retrieved 7 April 2009 
  6. ^ "Financial Review - News Store". Newsstore.fairfax.com.au. 14 October 2010. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  7. ^ Polly Vernon (7 September 2008). "Novelist Howard Jacobson on why jealousy is at the dark heart of male sexual passion | Life and style | The Observer". London: Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  8. ^ "Clipboard Archive - The Everyman Launch". The P G Wodehouse Society (UK). Retrieved 20 September 2011. 
  9. ^ Wides, Cara. "Something Jewish: "Howard Jacobson Talking"". Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  10. ^ "Winner of the 2007 Wingate Literary Prize"
  11. ^ White, Ben. "The Electronic Intifada, "Shoot and Cry: Liberal Zionism's Dilemma," (2007-09-20)". Retrieved 7 April 2009. 
  12. ^ McKie, John (14 October 2010). "The light-hearted too often leave award ceremonies light-handed". Caledonian Mercury. Retrieved 16 October 2010. 
  13. ^ a b "Howard Jacobson wins the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2010". Man Booker Prize. 12 October 2010. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  14. ^ Alison Flood (15 May 2013). "Howard Jacobson wins second Wodehouse prize for comic fiction". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 15 May 2013. 
  15. ^ "Arena: My Sion the Novelist", BFI Film and TV Database
  16. ^ "The Bible: A History". Channel 4. Retrieved 12 October 2010. [dead link]
  17. ^ "Christianity Is Imperfect - But Life Is Imperfect". Intelligence Squared. Archived from the original on 8 Jan 2011. Retrieved 29 April 2013. 
  18. ^ "Desert Island Discs: Howard Jacobson". BBC Online. BBC. 6 February 2011. Retrieved 29 May 2011. 

External links[edit]