Jacobson (The Finkler Question, 2010, etc.), Britain’s answer to Philip Roth, returns with an enigmatic tale of the near future.
Imagine The Children of Men appearing under the name of Fran Lebowitz, and you’ll have some sense of the dislocation Jacobson’s move from angst-y comedy to dystopian darkness might cause. Not that Jacobson’s future is all bad: In fact, the coast of a land something like Wales or Cornwall is now peppered with places with names such as Port Reuben and home to people called Morvoren Steinberg and Esme Nussbaum, “an intelligent and enthusiastic thirty-two-year-old researcher employed by Ofnow, the non-statutory monitor of the Public Mood.” For once, it seems, Jews have found a refuge and are not being killed in it, even if they’re still not entirely at home there. Born into this world is Kevern Cohen, who, deeply in love with the alluring Ailinn Solomons, finds himself puzzling over why his father impulsively drew his fingers across his mouth whenever he began a word with the letter J. Does G-d not like those who honor him with names such as Jacob and Joseph? There’s a mystery afoot there, if one less pressing than such mysteries as who killed Lowenna Morgenstern and Ythel Weinstock, “found lying side by side in the back of Ythel Weinstock's caravan in pools of each other’s blood.” Who, indeed? Kevern’s got his work cut out for him, and though everyone’s ready to talk, no one’s ready to tell. The laughs come fewer and farther between than in Jacobson’s recent string of men-lost-in-middle-age yarns, which is not to say that his latest is without humor: When one local asks Kevern whether he knows the meaning of a dialect phrase, Kevern guesses something very not nice indeed, to which the local replies, “We’ll make a local of yerz yet. Go fuck yerzelf is spot on.”
A pleasure, as reading Jacobson always is—though much different from what we’ve come to expect, which is not at all a bad thing.