The 2010 winner of the Man Booker Prize serves up selections from his columns at the Independent.
Although the essays are uniform in length, they range over a wide variety of Jacobson’s (No More Mr. Nice Guy, 2011, etc.) interests, passions, peeves, quirks and queries. Volcanoes, terrorists, Kafka, opera, the BBC, royals, weeping, beach books, the Holocaust, art, Dickens, bicycles, Americans, British politics, Leonard Cohen, Sarah Palin—these and numerous other topics bang about in Jacobson’s mind until they escape into the world. A number of stylistic and thematic similarities emerge. He adores Shakespeare, and specific allusions to the Bard appear often—as do playful uses of quotations, especially from Hamlet. Dickens is another favorite. But Jacobson also writes several times about the importance of literature that challenges rather than entertains or sedates. Brains grow when engaged and stagnate when soaked in treacle. He also writes about how governments and laws exist to make certain that the best sides of our nature hold tight reins on the worst—e.g., our desires for revenge and for harshness of all kinds. There are numerous personal pieces, too—about the death of a good friend, playwright Simon Gray; about the tenseness, then reconciliation, with Harold Pinter; about learning at a wake that he was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. And there’s an amusing piece about his fondness of Wagner, a fondness not shared by his wife. Jacobson is certainly thoughtful and emotional but, like Mark Twain, can jolt you with laughter when you least expect it.
Rich and flavorful—best ingested in small amounts so the savory pleasures linger.