Definitely one of the funniest books in the english language and easily the best book jacobson has written. Only the first chapter is turgid: i still don't know what it is about. After that the novel is a hysterical ramble through academia with a brilliant comic ending.
Funny, riveting, eclectic. This book manages to beautifully describe the small-town mentality of staff - both teaching and administrative - in a typical 'red-brick' university and its constraining effect on an English Jew of prodigious appetites. The writing is masterful, funny and entertaining. The shortcomings of its antihero, Selwyn Goldberg, explored in excruciatingly forensic detail. The book has a great atmospheric feel and Jacobson's descriptive talents are used to the full. Go buy it!
This is a superb comic novel. Jacobson snuffles down with a cosy evisceration of a Jewish lecturer's mid life crisis (or rather, stagnation) at a hillariously imagined moribund Wrottesley Polytechnic in the Midlands.
Jacobson satirises the vanities of ambition with great wit, and packs the novel with witty and erudite insights into the male condition. Especially that of the middle aged Jewish intellectual male, who cannot for various reasons fully integrate with the pastoral cottage dwelling lifestyles of his fellow lecturers in the Midlands.
Jacboson can be intelligent, scabrous, and packs a superb talent for analysing the world around him- a sort of English comic Bellow: the shaping of Cockey minds by Dickens, the reason why Jews don't like sport, the temptations and perils of High Church Cambridge, the description of a man leaning forward in prayer to drink coffee in the staffroom. Jacobson is a man who notices.
This is a cosy campus novel very much reminiscent of Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim. It is about not fitting in, and striving for something better in your life, even though your circumstances are actually fine in the scheme of things. Jacobson's Sefton is like Lucky Jim in that his talent is really for being funny in a close knit circle, benefiting others not necessarily solely himself - the difference between the little guy and the small man.
A word of warning: this is a novel slathered in the rather parochial and specific English Literature tradition, as shaped by the 1960s. Hence you may be a little bewildered if you are not familiar with D.H. Lawrence, the structuralism/post structuralism debates, and the colossal significance of F.R. Leavis for Cambridge educated men of Jacboson's generation, you may be a little at sea. As Will Self has observed, the smug cosiness of this nexus of people (specifically their belief that they, and only they are qualified to read and write novels) is annoying. Jacobson's later fiction has broadened out from this slightly, but he does remain very much one of these people.
I've once read an article by 1984 author George Orwell, lamenting the misuse of the written language. One of his complaints is the unnecessary complication of a simple sentence in an attempt to appear witty or deep. "Coming from behind" takes this malady to the absolute extreme. Why use one sentence when you can use five paragraphs? The story follows a bungling teacher of English Literature in an unimportant academic institute, and his unsuccessful attempts to extract himself from the continuing cycle of failure that is his life. Dealing with the petty infighting and politics of the minor academics, some level of verbal sophistication could be accepted as minor irony. Unfortunately, Jacobsen convolutes the narrative to such an extent that the reader is simply exhausted by the barrage of intertwining descriptions of every tiny detail and the overwhelming complication of every single word. All in all, there are a few humorous moments here, but not enough to keep you from drowning in an ocean of obfuscation.
Kingsley Amis, David Lodge, Malcolm Bradbury and Robertson Davies have all done fine "campus" novels. Jacobson's is mediocre and rarely funny. There are so many great books to read- don't waste your time with this one!