Leo Robson concluded his survey of the Man Booker Prize shortlist with this prediction: “I think the prize will be given to [Howard] Jacobson or [Emma] Donoghue.” He was right. Jacobson won last night with his novel The Finkler Question, a book that Robson mildly disparaged in his review of it for the NS back in July:
[Jacobson’s] new novel, though by no means a negligible work, discomforts the reader with uncertain descriptions, callous sarcasms and failed gags. Strange turns are likely, perhaps inevitable, in the career of any hard-working novelist but rarely do they defy explanation.
Robson thought The Finkler Question compared unfavourably with Jacobson’s 2006 novel, Kalooki Nights, “a torrential comedy of ideas and impressions set in Manchester in the 1950s and London in the present day, concerned with the psychic and psychosexual effect of the pogroms and death camps on English Jews and constructed from passages of exact and agile prose”.
Some of those present at the awards dinner wondered if the Booker judges were compensating Jacobson for previous near-misses as much as they were recognising The Finkler Question. But two members of the judging panel strenuously denied this was the case when I put it to them.