Jacobson puts a smile on the face of the Booker

The prestigious literary prize has traditionally spurned comic novels. But not last night

According to the predictions, it was the least likely to win, in part for the simple reason that a comic novel has never satisfied the high-minded tastes of previous judges of the Man Booker prize, but last night Howard Jacobson's book broke the mould.

The Finkler Question, a comic-tragic drama about Jewish identity, friendship and loss, which was likened to Shakespeare in its delicate balance between humour and sadness, became the first comic novel to claim the £50,000 prize in its 42-year history. Jacobson, who is a columnist for The Independent, was praised by the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion, who was chairing the judges, as the nation's great Jewish novelist and Britain's answer to the American writer Philip Roth. For Jacobson, who had been twice longlisted for the prize, for Kalooki Nights in 2006 and Who's Sorry Now? in 2002, the prize has been a long time coming; in his winner's speech at Guildhall in London he spoke of his bitterness and repeated disappointments over the years, as former judges overlooked his work: "It started in 1983... How long the wait has been."

He was astonished by his victory; he had been sure he would never win the prize that had eluded him for decades – he was so frustrated by his failures that he described the Booker Prize as an "abomination" in 2001.

"I was beginning to look like a novelist who was not going to win it and I was sick of being described as under-rated. So I am truly flabbergasted," Jacobson said, admitting there had been "a bit of bitterness" over previous judging decisions.

"I have been around and writing novels for 30 years. Now I'm being discovered by people who have never read me before," he said, adding that the subject of his next comic novel, whose central character was to be a writer who had never achieved any recognition, might have to be revised.

At the age of 68, he is the oldest Booker winner since 1980, when the 69-year old William Golding won for Rites of Passage.

The Finkler Question is Jacobson's 11th novel. Sir Andrew dismissed the notion that the award had taken into account the writer's bridesmaid status in past years. "There is a particular pleasure in seeing someone as good as that get their just deserts," he said.

He speculated that it may have taken Jacobson – seen by many as a humorist – so long for Booker recognition because "people have been nervous about comedy in the past".

He hailed the novel as "the best book" in a "vintage year" which included Peter Carey, twice a Booker prize winner, among its six shortlisted contenders.

"It's about Jewishness, but so much more. It's laughter, but it's laughter in the dark. It's over the top to say it's Shakespearean but he [Jacobson] certainly knows what Shakespeare knew – that the relationship between the tragic and the funny are intimately linked," said Sir Andrew.

Jacobson, who lives in London, was born in Manchester and read English at Cambridge under FR Leavis. Rather than following in the American Jewish tradition of writing, he called himself an "Eng-lit man" whose favourite writers were Dr Johnson and Charles Dickens. He did, however, jokingly describe himself as the "love child" of [Philip] Roth and Jane Austen.

While his intention was to write "the funniest novel I have ever written", it also became the saddest, partly because three friends died as he was writing it.

The jury took only an hour todebate the winner, and the vote was divided 3-2.

Read Howard Jacobson's column every Saturday in 'The Independent'

Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray is joining Strictly Come Dancing 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
books
Arts and Entertainment
Double bill: Kookie Ryan, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Papou in ‘Nymphomaniac’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Big Blues - Shark' by Alexander Mustard won the Coast category

photography
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering