Monday, July 25, 2011

The Finkler Question

The Finkler Question was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2010.  Clearly other people, with more literary discrimination than I, liked this book.  A lot.  I didn't.  A lot. 

I guess I just didn't get it.  Other reviewers riffed on the book's reflections on love and loss.  Yes, there was some of that.  Some raved about the humour in the book.  I've searched my memory for a moment when I laughed, or chuckled, or even felt my lips curling up in a smile.  Couldn't find one.  One reviewer said the book read like a conversation between Sigmund Freud and Woody Allen.  Ah, there's a clue.  I don't like Woody Allen movies either.

To me, the book seemed to revolve around, not love and loss, but one man's search for identity.  Two characters in the book, Sam Finkler and Libor Sevcik, are Jewish.  The book is told from the point of view of Julian Treslove, who is not Jewish, and calls all Jews Finklers.  Can it be that he can make racist comments more easily when he doesn't refer to people as Jews?  Treslove makes his living impersonating famous people at posh parties; could you have a stronger metaphor for a man who doesn't really have his own identity?

The book documents some emergence of anti-Semetic feelings around the world, which disturbs me.  But to leap from that to 'Half the world wants to kill Jews and the other half wants to be Jews' was absurd for me.  Treslove falls into the camp of wanting to be a Jew.  In fact, on scant - well actually zero - evidence, Treslove decides he is Jewish.  This theme occupies the core of the book.  When Treslove says, "I mean Jews.  Don't you get sick of our, their, self-preoccupation?",  I was hard-pressed not to agree.

 I think I would have liked the book better if I had developed a shred of liking for the character of Treslove.  Then I might have found his search for identity more interesting.

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