Howard Jacobson - Kalooki Nights
Is there anybody out there who really needs another review of Kalooki Nights?
Come on, be frank to yourselves.
Should I start by mentioning the obvious remark that Howard Jacobson won the 2010 Booker Prize?
No. And, well, no.
Well, let's put it in this way.
I wanted to read this novel long before "The Finkler Question" got published and rewarded, but - obviously enough - my interest for Jacobson began after having read that notorious review by Jonathan Safran Foer on The New York Times. Many of you did the same, isn't it?
"This book is the best of our generation" claimed JSF. And I was deadly curious to see what was all this fuss about although the literary authority of Mr Safran Foer was not really the highest to me after those two surely talented but rather messy novels of him.
What else to add now? You would probably like me to say that my expectations were so big that they have not been fulfilled by the actual book, by its style, by its plot, by its black (?) humour.
Much ado about nothing, then? Not really.
Overall, I kind of liked "Kalooki Nights", but my first attempt to get into it was unsuccessful and ended up at the seventh line of page 16. When I restarted, I tried to win over the feeling that Jacobson was simply trying to impress me and his readers rather than setting up a story. There were too many stops and goes, too many reiterated concepts and, yes, far too many references to that sweet&sour Jewish sense of belonging.
While masters like, say, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, Mordecai Richler, Bernard Malamud and -discontinuously- Philip Roth were able to express in a natural and convincing way the links of their roots through their literary production, Mr Jacobson is not or, at least, doesn't feel like he can.
That's the main reason why the obsession for Jewishness, its diaspora and its "Five Thousand Years of Bitterness" (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, does it ring any bell?) permeating this novel seems made up in an artificial way by someone who doesn't have any Jewish background.
Plus, the jokes and trivial cracks about the Jews that are popping up every now and then are the oldest and silliest ever and I felt an authentic embarassment on behalf of Howard Jacobson while reading them. Not to mention the onomatopeic cry "Jew Jew Jew" of the Auschwitz Express (sic!) that the author seems so proud of.
Bah. Quoting Coleridge, Singer, Wittgenstein, Améry, Koestler and Art Spiegelman (being the protagonist a Jewish cartoonist obsessed by the Holocaust, the last name was blatantly awaited) does not help in redeeming the unfortunate choices of Jacobson.
Where "Kalooki Nights" succeeds is in portraying a bunch of male characters, starting from the socially excluded, introvert Manny, his brother Asher -torned between faith and love- passing through the narrator's secularist dad and the volcanic dirty-minded Errol Tobias.
Where "Kalooki Nights" fails is in giving a realistic picture of women. All women. But particularly the wives and lovers of the protagonist who are all selfish, racist, snobbish and sarcastic. One wonders what the hell Max the cartoonist found in these harpies and I wonder if Jacobson posed himself the same question apart from scribbling down the ridicolous attraction played by letter "ë". (Zoë, Chloë, Katchën...)
Ok, it was not my intention being too critical. This is a good novel. It tells you a lot about life in a mainly Jewish suburb in Manchester in the 1950s and there is plenty of well-crafted pages in "Kalooki Nights". It's just a pity that not all the pieces of this puzzle are put down in a convincing way.
Given this, I think Jonathan Safran Foer should read more contemporary literature.