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Jacobson, Howard

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1942-    ) UK academic, journalist and author, active in the latter capacity from the 1970s, his first novel being Coming from Behind (1983); perhaps to the detriment of his career as an author of the literary mainstream, he was identified from the first as a comic novelist, though The Finkler Question (2010) won what was by then called the Man Booker Prize. Fortunately, in his first sf novel there are only slight evidences of dissociation typical of the Mainstream Writer of SF: J (2014) is a seemingly comic Dystopia whose wit soon begins to expose a Near Future Media Landscape where the citizens of the UK are locked into a state of Amnesia about some transformative event which can only be referred to as "WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED", a term that directly echoes a famous passage by Paul Celan (1920-1970) in his essay "Speech on the Occasion of Receiving the Literature Prize of the Free Hanseatic City of Bremen" (delivered 1958), in which he describes the numbing effect of the Final Solution on language: "It [the Final Solution] passed through and gave back no words for that which happened". The word "Jew" does not appear in J, but the effects of an act of genocide involving Jews several generations earlier can be sensed throughout (see Holocaust Fiction; Horror in SF). Perhaps the most telling aspect of this novel – which has been duly likened to George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) by mainstream critics – is its focus on the pervasive traumas and dysfunctional behaviours that afflict a population from which all awareness of history has been stripped. A better comparison might to Austerlitz (2001) by W G Sebald (1944-2001).

In Shylock Is My Name: The Merchant of Venice Retold (2016), something like the ghost of William Shakespeare's Shylock much more explicitly addresses the contemporary world as an Underlier haunting his near double, who is involved in a complex twenty-first century plot readable as a Twice-Told reworking of The Merchant of Venice (performed circa 1597; 1600) [for Twice-Told and Underliers see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Pussy (2017) is a spoofish Satire on the American presidency of Donald Trump, set in a kind of Alternate World with a flavour of Ruritania, where much of the alterity is conveyed through punning name changes. [JC]

Howard Jacobson

born Manchester, England: 25 August 1942

works (highly selected)



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