Man Booker winner Howard Jacobson has last laugh

By Jenni Frazer, October 14, 2010
I’ve done it:  Howard Jacobson with his book The Finkler Question after winning the 2010 Man Booker Prize

I’ve done it: Howard Jacobson with his book The Finkler Question after winning the 2010 Man Booker Prize

It has taken him 27 years and 15 books, but this week the novelist Howard Jacobson finally won the most prestigious prize in publishing, the Man Booker award, for his novel, The Finkler Question.

The Manchester-born writer, previously longlisted twice for the Man Booker, joked at the Guildhall award ceremony that he had thrown away all his previous speeches of acceptance, while retaining an acute memory of all the judges who had turned him down in previous years.

Mr Jacobson, who was thought by bookmakers to be the rank outsider - Tom McCarthy's C was the favourite - frequently describes himself as the Jewish Jane Austen. In The Finkler Question he uses the device of a non-Jewish man who longs for the experiences of his two Jewish friends, to examine the condition of being Jewish in Britain today.

When "Finkler" becomes the substitute for the word "Jew" the pace becomes both fast and furious; Mr Jacobson, author of the first so-called "comic novel" to win the Booker prize, delicately dissects the often laughable and contradictory attitudes of angst-ridden Anglo-Jews.

Funny, clever, sad and subtle

The judges

At 68, Mr Jacobson can now lay claim to a £50,000 prize which he says he is going to use to buy a handbag for his wife, Jenny de Yong ("have you seen the price of handbags?") and look forward to increased book sales in the wake of the award.

The former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, announcing the win, said: "The Finkler Question is a marvellous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle."

Mr Jacobson, who published his first novel, Coming From Behind, in 1983, said his ambition had been to write the funniest book ever. All novels, he said, were "essentially comic".

Son of a market trader who went to Cambridge and then taught English in Australia, Howard Jacobson has said he never wanted to do anything other than write.

He has returned again and again to the subject of Jews and Jewishness in his novels, which are often semi-autobiographical, such as the Booker long-listed Kalooki Nights and The Mighty Waltzer.

Last updated: 4:17pm, October 14 2010