Saturday, November 7, 2015

J by Howard Jacobson

JSet in the future - 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.

Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn't know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn't then, and isn't now, the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn't ask who hurt her. Brutality has grown commonplace. They aren't sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they've been pushed into each other's arms. But who would have pushed them, and why?

Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe - a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened.

The problem with this novel is that it is dull. Quite dull. It took me a long time to get through it because of its rambling passages, which though beautifully written, could have easily been cut out of the novel without any serious effect. The veiled references to the Holocaust start off interesting enough but soon grow tiresome and somehow get even vaguer. 

If the characters had been more engaging, perhaps the whole thing could have worked, but neither of the protagonists made much of an impact. The entire cop storyline felt disjointed and forced, and was never really resolved, as the murder of an irrelevant character in the middle of the book. 

There are many dystopian novels out there much more interesting and less boring than this one. It tried to be and say too much and got bogged down by its ambition.