Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Jew, the Gentile and a Problem with Identity

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Jew, the Gentile and a Problem with Identity

Article excerpt

Byline: WILLIAM LEITH

THE FINKLER QUESTION by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury, [pounds sterling]18.99) IN THIS novel, which I belted through in two sittings, and thoroughly enjoyed, Howard Jacobson gives us two main characters. There is Sam Finkler -- popular philosopher, TV personality, tormented womaniser. And there is Finkler's friend and rival, Julian Treslove -- failed radio producer, middle-class, middle-aged drifter, tormented womaniser. Treslove, the focus of the book, is a brilliantly realised character. Not that Finkler isn't. The two men were at school together, in north London. And now they are approaching 50 together, in the same place.

In a way, Finkler and Treslove are opposites. Finkler seeks women out, guiltily. Treslove womanises in a passive sort of way. Women just happen to him, and then they leave. In contrast, success just seems to happen to Finkler. He writes books of popular philosophy, about how famous thinkers can help you with your ordinary problems, such as dating. His books are bestsellers. He becomes a TV intellectual -- a sort of Simon Schama figure. His house in Hampstead has a heath view from every window. Treslove, on the other hand, can't quite afford to live in Hampstead. He is marginalised.

In fact, Treslove is in danger of disappearing altogether. He is handsome, but in a nonedescript way.

He works as a celebrity double, because he can, at a pinch, look like Brad Pitt. But he can also look like Colin Firth. At one point, he dresses up as Colin Firth playing Mr Darcy, but somebody thinks he has come as Brad Pitt. Finkler, on the other hand, is not nondescript -- he's not particularly attractive but he has presence. He has heft. He has clout.

One day, Treslove -- get that name, by the way -- is mugged. His wallet and phone, possibly the only things that confer identity on the poor man, are stolen. …

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