Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ZOO TIME by Howard Jacobson Kirkus Star


by Howard Jacobson

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60819-938-9
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Bad-boy funnyman Jacobson waxes pensive and topical—but no less mirthful—in his latest assault on the foibles of modern life.

These days, grumbles Guy Ableman, “one has to apologize for having read a book, let alone for having written one.” That’s bad for old Guy, who’s a reader and a writer, the author of smart literary fictions of very modest success who suddenly realizes that his bookish world is crumbling around him. It doesn’t help that his agent commits suicide rather than negotiate yet another e-book deal or that his wife, voluptuous and wonderful, has decided that she’s going to write something of her own or that his wife’s mother is sending decidedly un-mother-in-law-like vibes his way: Guy is in a bad existential state, and the world of publishing is going down the tubes with him. The obvious solution? Why, to craft an irresistible best-seller, a dumb and juicy confection that twists all the right knobs. It’s a lovely setup, one that affords Jacobson, never shy about skewering modern mores, plenty of opportunities to lampoon modern trends in the litbiz. He gets in digs at just about everything, in fact; for instance, we learn, courtesy of Guy, that novels about single fatherhood sell well in Canada “because Canadian women were so bored with their husbands that the majority of them ran off sooner or later with an American or an Inuit.” So fast and furious are the jibes that one wonders if Jacobson will have anything left to lampoon, but of course, the world has a way of providing targets for the careful satirist, and he’s an ascended master. His latest is more fun than Lucky Jim, and if some of its tropes are more ephemeral, Jacobson is willing to take some big risks in the service of art, as when Guy muses of one of his confections, “I had to cheat a bit to get the Holocaust in, but a dream sequence will always make a chump of chronology.”

Guy’s not a lucky guy, to be sure, but if there’s justice, Jacobson will enjoy best-sellerdom in his place with this latest romp.