Monday, January 12, 2015

J : A Novel

J: A Novel
by Howard Jacobson

Paperback, 327 pages
Published: 2014
Publisher:  Random House India
ISBN:  9780224102056

Blurb: Set in the future - a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited - J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying.

Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn't know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn't then, and isn't now, the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn't ask who hurt her. Brutality has grown commonplace. They aren't sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they've been pushed into each other's arms. But who would have pushed them, and why?

Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe - a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened.

J is a novel to be talked about in the same breath as Nineteen Eighty-Fourand Brave New World, thought-provoking and life-changing. It is like no other novel that Howard Jacobson has written.

I am not much of a high-brow reader. Sophie Kinsella and Jodi Picoult are enough to make me get titillated when I am to pick up a new book. But this time, I wanted to read something really ‘good.’ My senses were instantly perked up when they said I could read J.
All I knew about it was that Howard Jacobson had won the Man Booker Prize for one of his books in 2010 and that J was long listed for the Booker this year too. It had to be awesome. Another thing I knew about it was that it was a dystopian novel, so I was really very interested.
J is basically a book on the holocaust survivors and is set somewhere in the post-apocalyptic era. The setting is something that resembles England. It could be England, but you never know. Jacobson has put in a lot of references to German words in between, which gives a good deal of ambiguity to the reader for the setting. The book says that the place is Port Reuben. It is one of many renamed towns where many rechristened people live.
Jacobson’s novel tells us of a generation that you found find hard to identify with in this present of yours. He tells of their terror and past that is unbelievably ghastly.  The time of which Jacobson talks, nostalgia is a taboo and even a bigger one is to seek knowledge. The world is again under the claws of the powers like the ones we can never imagine could exist ever again. Media is totally controlled, some events and incidents are never talked about, and some are totally nullified by the official reports. All people are left with the liberty of saying ‘WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED’ – the phrase repeated multitude of times in the book.

I believe, the one who has written the blurb was slightly mistaken. You can’t compare J to Brave New World and 1984.  In a lot of places while reading J, I found it bland. Almost a torment to continue. And things didn’t seem to fall into place until after more than half the book is done. I was like, ‘I do not understand a damn thing that’s going on!’

I don’t want to sound prejudiced, but J seems to be a book typically written for the Booker-types. Tailor made for accolades and nominations at the awards. For an average light-reader like me, it is like climbing a rocky hill. The prose is too pompous for me, the characters didn’t make sense, a really vague plot until half the book- there doesn’t have to be a longer list why I didn’t quite like J. I might even have given it up just in the first fifty pages had it not been a review copy.
For the ones who think they would like this real ‘high brow’ thing, go for it. For the light readers, I would give you a red sign. Stay away.

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