Author Howard Jacobson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: abandoned, sci-fi, dystopia-post-apocalyptic
A profound, darkly comedic parable set in a future where collective memory has vanished following a historic catastrophe, and one young couple's love affair could have shattering consequences for the human race. In 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. After the devastation of WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, all that should remain is peace and prosperity. Everyone knows his or her place; all actions are out in the open. But Esme Nussbaum has seen the distorted realities, the fissures that have only widened in the twenty-plus years since she was forced to resign from her position at the monitor of the Public Mood. Now, Esme finds something strange and special developing in a romance between Ailinn Solomons and Kevern Cohen. As this unusual pair's actions draw them into ever-increasing danger, Esme realizes she must do everything in her power to keep them together--whatever the cost. With a sense of the dramatic sweep of Michael Ondaatje and the dystopian, literary sensibility of Margaret Atwood, Howard Jacobson's J is an astonishing feat of fiction. In this exquisitely written, beautifully playful and imaginative, and terribly heart-breaking work, Jacobson gathers his prodigious gifts for the crowning achievement of a remarkable career.
For me, the attraction of J from its blurb was the lauded comic parable (and the Margaret Atwood comparisons duh). Unfortunately, while I’m apprised in that particular business and can, to some extent, appreciate it, I have a much cruder sense of humor, and enjoy more blatant, obvious satires.
J employed situational nonsense-that-wasn’t, and within this context, a piercingly morose couple had their interwoven story told. The first aspect never revealed its wittiness for me. (I am obtuse. We should all get over it already.) Rather contrarily, it intrigued me in a more clinical sense. Moreover, the seeming seriousness of our main characters only served to detract from the sardonic commentary upon them in the third person narration.
Frankly, I wasn’t even interested in was the ghastly murders that were commited; I think it’s not the actual tragedy that intrigued so much as the reactions of peoples.
This is a hard book to classify, set in a world after twitter, written books and similar have been done away with some WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. This particular incident, if it even happened, is not expounded upon in detail but the afftereffects and resultant changes in this specific country were my favorite, so to speak, part of the entire story. People couldn’t even agree on whether it happened or whom to blame. Or they especially didn’t want to. It was an interesting society, just not enough for me to waste another two and a half hours with it.
Another aspect from the blurb I couldn’t agree with: the “tender” romance. (When I think tender and romance, only Tender Morsels comes to mind so publishers, please take note and desist from using these in blurbs. Unless you’re doing a story in the vein of Margo Lanagan’s.) For one, morose characters. For two, they seemed to be going through similar motions-talk and whatnot-again and again. For three, I don’t even do Adventure Time romance if the chemistry or whatnot isn’t palpable. CANNOT.
When I was a kiddie and interested in all things drawing, painting, way before I realized the empowerment and time management to be had in doodling or making comic strips about math classes, (I was a messiah with my group of messiahs who saved the class regularly. And this is coming from someone who actually likes math.) I painted a rainy day scene(all the rage back when) and accidentally spilled water on it. All the features’ outlines were slightly blurred and the pavement was weeping; much was lost. The scenery that resulted was an actual fucking scenery, washed out and all the more vista-like for it.
Seems like Howard Jacobson tried to do something similar, only sans the benefits I gained. All J has left is a hardened nut of “darkly comic parable,” “tender humor” and gratingly long-winded sentences at times.
Basically what this book didn’t have.
Thank you Crown Publishing!