J by Howard JacobsonJ by Howard Jacobson
Published by Crown Publishing Group on October 14th 2014
Pages: 342
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary
Hardcover provided by Blogging for Books


In a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited, J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying. After the devastation of WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, all that should remain is peace and prosperity. Everyone knows his or her place; all actions are out in the open. But Esme Nussbaum has seen the distorted realities, the fissures that have only widened in the twenty-plus years since she was forced to resign from her position at the monitor of the Public Mood. Now, Esme finds something strange and special developing in a romance between Ailinn Solomons and Kevern Cohen. As this unusual pair's actions draw them into ever-increasing danger, Esme realizes she must do everything in her power to keep them together--whatever the cost.
With a sense of the dramatic sweep of Michael Ondaatje and the dystopian, literary sensibility of Margaret Atwood, Howard Jacobson's J is an astonishing feat of fiction. In this exquisitely written, beautifully playful and imaginative, and terribly heart-breaking work, Jacobson gathers his prodigious gifts for the crowning achievement of a remarkable career.

Reading time 6 mins

J was a story about a man and an occurrence. WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED is something mentioned throughout the story and it affects everything. This story involves a civilization without memory, without much hope for happiness and without much excitement. I wanted to love this tale. I enjoy most dystopian tales, but this story did not excite me. In making the characters the author created people that were devoid of passion for anything but mere survival.

Kevern is the hero of this story and his life borders on eccentricity with moments of normal. Ailinn is the heroine, the beauty who caught his eye, but she has her own heartbreaking story or abandonment in childhood. This book had my attention, and then lost it. I really had to force myself to keep reading this book. The thing is that nothing really happens in this book. This book has flat characters doing nothing special. When I say the characters are flat, that is putting it mildly. This book might appeal to scholars who love their fifty cent words in descriptions, but I believe most of the population will not enjoy this book as whole. It is too easy to get lost in the language. It might take a whole chapter for a conversation to occur.

It is a book meant for mature audiences not because of its context, but more due to its adult themes. Only boring/dull adults can understand the acceptance of opportunities missed, roads that must be taken, and settling for “good enough” to get by. Although I didn’t enjoy this book much, I keep reminiscing about the characters, who as a dull adult myself, I can wholly relate to. How unfortunate. Body image, embarrassing family ties, abandoning lovers, suspicion and fretting about nothing much. I hated myself for liking bits of this tale. It just shows how far from excitement my life has wandered, and how much I love words. Language in this book flourishes, unchecked.

I don’t believe for one minute that this many people self-analyze in any civilization, much less a society such as this. Memory is supposed to be forbidden and heirlooms are inventoried. Yet some of the characters collect the past and regurgitate it for money. I never got some of this tale, and I suspect I never will. This book was hard to read. Details were thrown together seemingly for the reader’s enjoyment, but it lost me in its fanciful telling. I know I am in the minority since this book/author has won some awards, but his just isn’t my kind of story.


In reality there wasn’t much that was “same old” about her life, other than the habit of thinking there was. By any objective measure—and she could see objectivity, just out of reach—she was living adventurously. She had recently moved into a new house. In the company of a new friend. In a new village. For the move she had bought herself new clothes. New sunglasses. A new bag. New nail polish. Even her slippers were new. The house, though new to her, was not new to itself. It felt skulkingly ecclesiastical, which Ailinn had reasons of her own to dislike, as though a disreputable abbé or persecuted priest—a pastor too austere for his congregation or a padre too fleshly for his—had gone to ground there and finally forgotten what he was hiding from. It had stood stonily in its own damp in a dripping valley, smelling of wild garlic and wet gorse, for centuries. Neither the light of hope nor the light of disillusionment made it through its small, low windows, so deep into the valley. It deferred expectation—was the best you could say of it. Whoever had lived here before her, they had been, like the vegetation, neither happy nor unhappy. But though she shrank from its associations, it was still an improvement on the square slab of speckled concrete she had latterly grown up in, with its view that was no view of a silted estuary—the dull northern tide trickling in from nowhere on the way to nowhere—and the company of her frayed-tempered parents who weren’t really her parents at all. And— 
 —she had met a new man. The one who had insulted her feet.True, he was no Sylvan god, and would not have put her feet to his lips even if he had been—but that was no consolation for her having probably lost him. He had—he’d had—promise. As for the rest—including the new friend, who was much older than her and more a sort of guardian (funny the way she attracted guardians)—they struck her as incidentals, a rearrangement of the furniture, that was all. In every other regard she was still herself. That was what was cruel about superficial change: it exposed what could never change. Better to have stayed where she was and waited. As long as you are waiting you can’t be disappointed. I was all right when I was in suspense, she thought. But that wasn’t true either. She had never been all right.Her heart, periodically, fluttered. Arrhythmia, the doctor called it. “Nothing to worry about,” he said when the tests came back. She laughed. Of course it was nothing to worry about. Life was noth-ing to worry about. In the place she had come from people said that  your heart fluttered when someone you loved had died.“What if you don’t love anybody?” she had asked her adoptive mother. “Then it’s the anniversary of the death of someone you loved in a previous life,” the older woman had answered.

My Rating

About the Author

Howard Jacobson was born in Manchester, England, and educated at Cambridge. His many novels include The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Who’s Sorry Now? and Kalooki Nights (both longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), and, most recently, The Act of Love. Jacobson is also a respected critic and broadcaster, and writes a weekly column for the Independent. He lives in London.

I received this product free of charge in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links. This review is in compliance with the FTC guidelines.

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