Recommendation: J by Howard Jacobson

I just finished reading J by Howard Jacobson. That little strike through on the J should really be two lines, as per the book, where any word beginning with “j” also has the letter stricken through. But I can’t figure out how to do it on WordPress.

J is set in a world where something Has Happened – WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, is never clear in the book and is always referred to in the hypothetical. But whatever it was has caused society to turn to a great forgetting, a turning away from memory and identity so that whatever happened won’t ever happen again. This great societal effort is failing, though, and strange outbursts of violence are seizing the country anyway – we are aware of this from the beginning as Ailinn Solomons and Kevern Cohen begin their strange, tentative relationship.

It’s a love story, and it’s a dystopian novel, and it’s a novel about anti-semitism, but nothing is ever addressed head on. In J there aren’t any grand revelations or explosions, there is no courageous resistance against an oppressive government. WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, was a collective act of violence so great that to speak of it is an act of unimaginable illegality – the genius of the way this illegality is structured is that nothing is banned, so much as just not done. This elliptical style might turn some people off but for me, it made for a disorienting and almost elegiac reading experience; a sense of sorrow for things barely remembered, the knowledge that we as a society have done things that we shouldn’t be proud of and for which we should apologize, suffused every page.

So, I highly recommend! Go buy it and read it. And then tell me what you think. 




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