COMING FROM BEHIND by Howard Jacobson


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Comedy/satire in the British-academia, Lucky Jim mold--occasionally funny, but seriously marred by its Jewish hero's constant, drearily obsessive references to his Jewishness. Unlike Frederic Raphael's self-consciously Jewish protagonist in The Glittering Prizes, Sefton Goldberg--a youngish, bitter academic stuck in a miserable job at Wrottesley Polytechnic in the Midlands--is more whiny than sardonic, with a concept of Jewish-identity that will seem dated or merely odd to most US readers. (Within eight pages: ""Being Jewish, you simply couldn't give up your collusion with other men""; ""Being Jewish, Sefton didn't know much about the names. . . of fish""; ""He was used to temptation and, being Jewish, he was used to a quick capitulation to it."") When not going on and on in this wearisome, often-bewildering fashion, misanthrope Sefton is envying his more successful colleagues, applying for other jobs, or arguing with fierce, sexy feminist Cora Pock (who breezily claims to be ""an expert at masturbating men""). Somewhat more amusingly, he is appalled to hear about the university's proposed merger with the neighboring football club--which means that English lit classes will be held at the stadium. . . and that football-star Kevin Dainty (author of the novel Scoring) will be on the Board of Governors. And, before things come to a close with Sefton somehow winning a Disraeli Fellowship at his alma mater (Cambridge), there'll be a neat sketch of a beer-obsessed Dean, a few farcical sex-encounters, a few campus feuds, and a visit home to the folks in Manchester. True, the British/Jewish comedy in this brief family section is tough and diverting--with glimpses of Sefton's agoraphobic mother and a sliver of childhood reminiscence. (""It is pretty well established now that the Gestapo was never fully operational in Manchester in the 1950's. . . ."") But, for the most part, Jacobson's heavyhanded/flavorless treatment of the Jew-as-outsider is a major drawback here--weighing down what is otherwise a near-plotless, mildly entertaining serving of satiric academic folderol.

Pub Date: Dec. 19th, 1983
ISBN: 0897331559
Publisher: St. Martin's