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J: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 14, 2014

3.2 out of 5 stars 104 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Finalist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize

Praise for J:

“Thrilling and enigmatic...[J’s] subtle profundities and warm intelligence are Jacobson’s own....its insistent vitality offers something more than horror: a vision of the world in which even the unsayable can, almost, be explained.” —Matthew Spektor, New York Times Book Review
“A masterwork of imagination flavored with grief.” —Jenni Laidman, Chicago Tribune
“A fascinating cautionary tale about the paradoxical dangers of assimilation and tranquility.” —Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“Remarkable... Comparisons do not do full justice to Jacobson’s achievement in what may well come to be seen as the dystopian British novel of its times.” —John Burnside, Guardian
“J is a snarling, effervescent, and ambitious philosophical work of fiction that poses unsettling questions about our sense of history, and our self-satisfied orthodoxies. Jacobson’s triumph is to craft a novel that is poignant as well as troubling from the debris.” —Independent (UK)
J delivers a gut punch of a plot twist that rests somewhere between hope and devastation. This is a major novel, a rare work that makes readers think as much as feel.” —Shelf Awareness (starred)
“Top 50 fiction books for 2014” —Washington Post
“Fine, you can call him the British Philip Roth, but J makes me wonder when the hell we’re going to have someone with the staggering talent that we can call an American Howard Jacobson.” —Shalom Auslander, author of Hope: A Tragedy
J is a dystopia that invites comparison with George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.” —Sunday Times (UK)
“Jacobson’s fusion of village comedy and dystopian sci-fi is a tour de force.” —Publishers Weekly
“A pleasure, as reading Jacobson always is.” —Kirkus (starred)
“If you still read novels, Howard Jacobson’s J is a novel you should read.” —The Awl
“Mystifying, serious, and blackly funny... J shows that, for a writer working at the peak of his powers, with the themes of his imagined future very much part of our present, laughter in the dark is the only kind.” —Independent on Sunday (UK)
“Brilliant...J is a firework display of verbal invention, as entertaining as it is unsettling.” —Jewish Chronicle
“Readers...will find plenty to think and talk about in Jacobson’s remarkable, disturbing book.” —Booklist (starred)
“J is a remarkable achievement: an affecting, unsettling—and yes, darkly amusing—novel that offers a picture of the horror of a sanitized world whose dominant mode is elegiac, but where the possibility of elegy is everywhere collectively proscribed.” —National (UK)
“Contemporary literature is overloaded with millenarian visions of destroyed landscapes and societies in flames, but Jacobson has produced one that feels frighteningly new by turning the focus within: the ruins here are the ruins of language, imagination, love itself.” —Telegraph (UK)
“[J]’s success owes much to the fine texture of its dystopia... As a conspiracy yarn examining the manipulation of collective memory, J has legs, and it’s well worth its place on this year’s Man Booker longlist... Jacobson has crafted an immersive, complex experience with care and guile.” —Observer (UK)
“Jacobson...goes from strength to strength. This is a new departure: futuristic, dystopian, not, it seems, the world as we know it. But as we peer through the haze we see something take shape. It’s horrible. It’s monstrous. Read this for yourself and you’ll see what it is.” —Evening Standard (UK)
J is a rare combination of moral vision and subtle emotional intelligence...superb.” —Lancet (UK)
“A provocative dystopian fantasy to stack next to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, J has the kind of nightmarish twist which makes you want to turn back to page one immediately and read the whole thing again.” —Sunday Express (UK)

Praise for Howard Jacobson:

“A real giant, a great, great writer.”
–Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Everything is Illuminated
“Mr. Jacobson doesn’t just summon [Philip] Roth; he summons Roth at Roth’s best.”
–Janet Maslin, New York Times
“Jacobson’s capacity to explore the minutiae of the human condition while attending to the metaphysics of human existence is without contemporary peer.”
–Daily Beast

About the Author

An author of fiction and non-fiction, Jacobson's previous novels include Man Booker-winner The Finkler Question, Zoo Time, and Kalooki Nights. Hogarth will also publish his forthcoming retelling of The Merchant of Venice as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series. Jacobson is a columnist for The Independent and has worked as a professor and in television and radio broadcasting.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth; First Edition edition (October 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553419552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553419559
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (104 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In a 2013 speech entitled “When Will the Jews be Forgiven the Holocaust?” Man Booker Prize-winning British novelist and critic Howard Jacobson (THE FINKLER QUESTION) offered at least a partial explanation for why virulent hatred of the Jewish people continues to exist and, ominously, is growing in parts of Europe. “Those we harm, we blame,” he observed, “mobilizing dislike and even hatred in order to justify, after the event, the harm we did. From which it must follow that those we harm the most --- we blame the most.” Jacobson’s chilling question and its paradoxical answer lie at the heart of J, his new Man Booker Prize shortlisted novel --- part dystopian allegory, part love story --- that deploys the tools of fiction to illumine that troubling phenomenon without abandoning the novelist’s paramount obligation to tell an emotionally honest story.

Although the time and place in which it is set are never made explicit, J seems to take place a couple of generations hence in a country whose geography and culture don’t feel all that far removed from present-day Great Britain. The society has endured some form of mass extermination or exile that’s referred to only as WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED (Jacobson’s typography), reflecting a desire to bury all memory of the event. Equally ambiguous is the identity of the “aloof, cold-blooded” victims, whose “loyalty is solely to each other,” though the following description could hardly be more suggestive:

“Imaginatively, the story of their annihilation engrosses them; let them enjoy a period of peace and they conjure war, let them enjoy a period of regard and they conjure hate. They dream of their decimation as hungry men dream of banquets. What their heated brains cannot conceive, their inhuman behavior invites. ‘Kill us, kill us.
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By Helen on August 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a difficult novel to enjoy. Firstly, it deals with a dystopian society where the reasons for that dystopia are incredibly uncomfortable. Of course, good dystopian novels SHOULD make you uncomfortable as a reader so perhaps it's reading it against the backdrop of current world events that struck such a disharmonious chord within me. Secondly, it takes a very long time for the reasons behind the society created in J to become clear. There are very good reasons for Jacobson writing in this manner and the cloudy WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED events that have made things the way they are. However, even though it's intentional to be fumbling around through the chapters and trying to work out what's happening, it made the story, the characters and the writing all far too nebulous. I spent far more time attempting to decipher the clues than appreciating the novel. I should probably go back and re-read it now I know the truth but, in reality, I know I won't.
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Format: Hardcover
J is accurately marketed as a "philosophical work of fiction." It is, unfortunately, strong on philosophy and weak on fiction. To his credit, Howard Jacobson raises important questions and avoids glib answers. He just doesn't do a very good job of storytelling.

The novel's beginning sets a promising scene. J takes place in a future of shared conventional thinking. Spontaneity and unpredictability are scorned. Jazz, wit, and other forms of improvisation have fallen out of favor. Art is a "primordial celebration of the natural world." It is meant to provoke feelings of tranquility and harmony, not anxiety or despair.

Prevailing sentiment in Jacobson's future is that we must forget the past. Conversations about the seminal event of the relatively recent past begin with "what happened, if it happened." The "twin itches" of recollection and penance are no longer scratched. People apologize without reference to any offense for which an apology might be due because random apologies eradicate and anesthetize guilt. Walls and monuments that commemorate war and suffering are gone, the "recriminatory past" replaced with an "unimpeachable future." Access to books (and therefore ideas) is restricted. Even "hoarding heirlooms" is an offense, although one the authorities will overlook if it is not carried to excess.

It is against this wonderfully detailed background that a plot fails to emerge. Instead, Jacobson gives the reader a jumble of loosely connected storylines. It is as if Jacobson put all of his effort into creating the story's background and failed to find a story that would fit within it.
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Format: Hardcover
J was a story about a man and an occurrence. WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED is something mentioned throughout the story and it affects everything. This story involves a civilization without memory, without much hope for happiness and without much excitement. I wanted to love this tale. I enjoy most dystopian tales, but this story did not excite me. In making the characters the author created people that were devoid of passion for anything but mere survival.

Kevern is the hero of this story and his life borders on eccentricity with moments of normal. Ailinn is the heroine, the beauty who caught his eye, but she has her own heartbreaking story or abandonment in childhood. This book had my attention, and then lost it. I really had to force myself to keep reading this book. The thing is that nothing really happens in this book. This book has flat characters doing nothing special. When I say the characters are flat, that is putting it mildly. This book might appeal to scholars who love their fifty cent words in descriptions, but I believe most of the population will not enjoy this book as whole. It is too easy to get lost in the language. It might take a whole chapter for a conversation to occur.

It is a book meant for mature audiences not because of its context, but more due to its adult themes. Only boring/dull adults can understand the acceptance of opportunities missed, roads that must be taken, and settling for “good enough” to get by. Although I didn’t enjoy this book much, I keep reminiscing about the characters, who as a dull adult myself, I can wholly relate to. How unfortunate. Body image, embarrassing family ties, abandoning lovers, suspicion and fretting about nothing much. I hated myself for liking bits of this tale.
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