A collection of mini-essays from one of England’s finest writers.
The winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize, Jacobson (Shylock Is My Name, 2016, etc.) returns with his second collection of weekly opinion pieces from the now-defunct Independent. He writes that his goal with these brief essays, most less than three pages long, was to “entertain in a spirit of high seriousness,” to “glide seamlessly between Rabelais and George Eliot.” For 18 years, he hoped they “might surprise and energise, and would give pleasure.” They have indeed. An ever gorgeous and witty writer with his own fierce opinions, Jacobson runs the gamut from Matisse, Leonard Cohen’s fedora, and Andy Murray to children’s literature, table tennis, and the “wise decision” of shooting Osama bin Laden. For American readers, a number of these columns are rather British-centric, yet even those can be enjoyed in a pleasant ignorant haze. The title piece is a tender, bittersweet reflection on what the author surmises is the final walk of a “black Labrador as old as Methuselah” who lifts his “handsome head to smell the air one last time.” Then it’s off to a discussion of darts, “the last refuge of the serious.” Delving into erotica, he notes that “Henry James wrote hotter novels than Jackie Collins.” Another graceful piece laments the death of a superb, “irreplaceable” Italian tailor. There’s an amusing discourse on the "wonderful" Wisden, the 1,500-page “cricketers’ almanack,” and another on the time when Jacobson discovered “despondent hedonism” while listening to Peggy Lee singing “Is That All There Is?” Regarding food, Indian cuisine is the most “intrinsically ceremonial.” It isn’t all sweetness and light, thanks to harsh words about Margaret Thatcher, governmental surveillance, and the invasion of Iraq, but the author seems more at home opining on such topics as why Macbeth is “the most interesting murderer in literature.”
A delightful and argute collection from a talented stylist.