This newspaper cannot pretend to be unbiased when it comes to offering congratulations to our columnist Howard Jacobson on winning the Booker Prize last night for his novel The Finkler Question. But we yield to none in our insistence that this is a recognition long overdue. Jacobson is a prodigious talent. His preceding book, Kalooki Nights, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any novel by an English writer over the past decade. It was both reparative and wise in its examination of the interplay between history and religion in Jews and Jewishness. Above all it was very funny.
That may be why Jacobson, a British Philip Roth, has never achieved the literary plaudits he merited. For where Roth grew more serious as he aged, Jacobson has remained scabrously funny. "Show me a novel that's not comic and I'll show you a novel that's not doing its job," he has written. Humour is not valued by certain literary types, who feel it lacks moral seriousness. That is not true as The Finkler Question shows. It is mirthful and ironic but also a bracing inquiry into contemporary Jewishness, which is ever its author's great subject. "It pleases me to think," Milan Kundera once said, "that the art of the novel came into the world as an echo of God's laughter." With last night's award it is echoing still.