J by Howard Jacobson

November 15, 2015
J, Howard Jacobson, BloggingforBooks, Book Review, InToriLex


'What country isn't a charnel house of its own history?'

Two people fall in love in a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited. As they discover where they came from and where they are going, a bigger, more shattering truth is revealed to them.

Kevern doesn't know why his father made him put two finger across his lips whenever he began a word with a J. It wasn't then, and isn't now, the time or place for asking questions. Ailinn, too, has grown up in the dark about who she was and 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 whether 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 all the lives of everyone 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.

Tender and terrifying, J deserves to be spoken in the same breath as Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World.


Dissappointed, Book Review, InToriLex

This was a disappointing read, sifting through it's confusing dialogue, and philosophy felt like work. I kept reading despite boredom because I was hoping I could glean enough about a dystopian society to make it worthwhile. Instead the plot takes a back seat to the authors need to overwrite. Everything was described a bit too much, way more telling than showing. When things did happen, the reaction to it was highlighted more than the thing, so nothing seemed to be happening at all. More than a few times things were described that seemed important but was never tied back into the rest of the story.
"You fell in love and immediately thought about dying. Either because the person you had fallen for had a mind to kill you, or because he exceptionally didn't and then you dreaded being parted from him."
There is some great writing here, but it trips over itself.  I ignored the pretty prose out of annoyance, because this was a collection of ideas rather than a well thought out novel. Aileen and Kevern are not characters, but would be better described as point of views that converse. This doesn't deserve to be compared to 1984 and Brave New World because those novels were accessible, most readers won't be able to stomach this. This is a dystopian, but minus the creativity and detail  necessary to make you care about the characters. The lack of urgency couldn't be made up for with short violent passages describing WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED.
"They had death on them and whoever had death on him was outcast. Illogical because someone had to deal with the dead, the tasks they performed were indispensable and even sacred, but logic had nothing to do with defilement."
It doesn't matter how great this book is to the people who understand it, if most people don't want to understand it at all. The plot could have been put into a book half this size, and it would have been more readable. I don't recommend this book to anyone but I finished it in hopes that the ending or some connection could make it work, it was a waste of time. If you enjoy philosophy, you could enjoy the intellectual banter here, but don't expect to enjoy it as a novel, because it just doesn't work in that respect.

I received this book from BloggingforBooks in exchange for a honest review.


Kindlemom said...

Reading should never feel like work. ;) Sorry this didn't work out for you, kudos to you though that you still tried to push through despite the fact that it wasn't working.

InToriLex said...

Yeah, I powered through but definitely won't be doing that in the future!!

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