Author: Howard Jacobson
Publisher: Hogarth Publishing
Type of book: Incest, Oedipal alert between father and daughters, based on a Shakespeare play Merchant of Venice, Shylock, modern times, anti-Judaism and its relation to others, reality shows, control, relationships
Year it was published: 2016
Man Booker Prize-winner Howard Jacobson brings his singular brilliance to this modern re-imagining of one of Shakespeare’s most unforgettable characters: Shylock
Winter, a cemetery, Shylock. In this provocative and profound interpretation of “The Merchant of Venice,” Shylock is juxtaposed against his present-day counterpart in the character of art dealer and conflicted father Simon Strulovitch. With characteristic irony, Jacobson presents Shylock as a man of incisive wit and passion, concerned still with questions of identity, parenthood, anti-Semitism and revenge. While Strulovich struggles to reconcile himself to his daughter Beatrice's “betrayal” of her family and heritage – as she is carried away by the excitement of Manchester high society, and into the arms of a footballer notorious for giving a Nazi salute on the field – Shylock alternates grief for his beloved wife with rage against his own daughter's rejection of her Jewish upbringing. Culminating in a shocking twist on Shylock’s demand for the infamous pound of flesh, Jacobson’s insightful retelling examines contemporary, acutely relevant questions of Jewish identity while maintaining a poignant sympathy for its characters and a genuine spiritual kinship with its antecedent—a drama which Jacobson himself considers to be “the most troubling of Shakespeare’s plays for anyone, but, for an English novelist who happens to be Jewish, also the most challenging.”
Here are the characters as best as I can understand them: first is Simon who is very wealthy but also has an incredibly unhealthy obsession with his own daughter, describing her as luscious, a pomegranate and someone who wants to possess her and even follows her around as she goes out. He is not religious in any fashion, but seems to be obsessed with how anti-Judaism impacts him. I don't know Shylock from the play, and from reading the book I will not touch the play with a ten-foot pole. Shylock is difficult to describe, but he is someone complex (literally not in a good way) and seems sort of? regretful of his actions. It is not mentioned whether or not he is a time traveler or embodies the myth of the Wandering Jew. Beatrice is not a well developed character and although she does attempt to rebel against her father's authority, in the end she comes to realization that rebellion will not do any good to her. Anna Livia Plurabelle Celopatra A Thing Of Beauty Is A Joy Forever Christine (Seriously, that's her name...) is a very shallow woman who has lots of money and only cares for her own pleasures rather than anyone else's. Of course there are other male characters but I have to be honest in saying I don't recall their names. One is a man who loves Jewish women and is a soccer player and has no issues with making Hitler salutes. Another is an older man who only wants to please Plurabelle, and there is also another man who attempts to court Plurabelle.
I have no clue what the story should have been about.
Its written in third person narrative mainly from Simon's, Plurabelle's, and few other characters' points of view. Allow me to pick a few bones with the book: the first bone I have to pick is that the women aren't portrayed in a realistic fashion, and are merely caricatures of what he thinks women should be like. The women care only for themselves and not for anyone else. The author doesn't care to delve deeply into their motivations. For example, Beatrice seems to detest the environment she grew up in, but when she and her father talked, and later on, she seemed to change without a reason and is in fact an intelligent woman. Plurabelle is a vapid young woman who seems to not have any brain cells within her head. The author could've gone into some details as to why Plurabelle acts that way aside from the fact she's rich. And I really wish the author could have used another reason for Beatrice to return to her Oedipal origins. Second bone I will be picking is the male character of Simon. Umm seriously, what father in his right mind would describe his own flesh and daughter as "luscious. A Levantine princess. A pomegranate...[he sees her checking herself out] smoothing her thighs, pushing out her breasts, amused by the too-muchness but overwhelmed by it at the same time...was this really hers to do with as she chose?" (76 in my copy.) Anyone else sees the beginning of the incest overtones the author is adopting? Third bone is hypocrisy. Simon was married twice; once to a christian woman, and second marriage is to a Jewish woman. Yet he's refusing Beatrice to date non-Jewish men and feels as if she is more of his property rather than a human being with her own emotions and thoughts. My last bone is can someone also tell me what in nine hells is the book about? Is the story about anti-Judaism in the world? About the incestual overtones between fathers and daughters? Is it about the relationships between christianity and Judaism and how tense they are? (And before I forget, how can someone have no idea they're circumcised?)
(from back of the book)
Howard Jacobson has written fourteen novels and five works of nonfiction. In 2010 he won the Man Booker Prize for The Finkler Question and was also shortlisted for the prize in 2014 for his most recent novel, J. Howard Jacobson's first book, Shakespeare's Magnanimity, writen with the scholar Wilbur Sanders, was a study of four Shakesperean heroes. Now he has returned to the Bard with a contemporary interpretation of The Merchant of Venice.
Cha...you know what? Nuh-uh. I'm really beginning to think that either there's something wrong with me, or else I shouldn't be reading books that are written in the present times by male Jewish authors. With one exception, (Zinsky the Obscure) I detested all the authors I have had a chance of reading and reviewing; I detested Boris Fishman's writing, Simon Sebag Montefiore, and now I have a new author whose book I greatly detest; Howard Jacobson. First of all, if someone is thinking of accusing me of being anti-Jewish or a racist or a bigot, please search my blog for book reviews that have Jewish authors: (Michael Gold, Chaim Potok, Jurek Becker, Ilan Mochari, Matthias Freese, and yes most of these authors' books are rated 4 stars.) To be fair, I am hesitant in reading stories that contain anti-Judaism, which means I will not be reading Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare anytime soon, and after reading this book, what little I have of desire to read Merchant of Venice has greatly decreased into the negatives. So, what exactly is wrong with the book? Extremely creepy Oedipal overtones of father and daughter relationships, then the constant overthinking and over analyzing of everything where I had no idea what they were thinking or talking about. Also, is Shylock a time traveler or an immortal man that represents the stereotype of the Wandering Jew? The author also seemed to lack understanding in fashioning a believable female heroine, and just simply created caricatures of how he thinks women should behave. And the ending...ugh. Without spoiling anything, it definitely is a cherry on the Oedipal wedding cake.
This is for Librarything
0 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)