Novelist defeats favorites McCarthy, Carey
Howard Jacobson, victorious, last night.(Stuart Wilson/Getty Images)
“I’m not the English Philip Roth, I’m the Jewish Jane Austen,” novelist Howard Jacobson told us a few days ago. Last night, Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize for his The Finkler Question. This was a substantial upset: Jacobson had been the betting man’s biggest underdog, at 8:1 odds, and that was before this past weekend, when Ladbrokes actually stopped taking bets due to the suspiciously high amount of money that came in for the odds-on favorite, Tom McCarthy’s C. This was also, according to the Guardian’s arts correspondent, “the first unashamedly comic novel” to win the prestigious, 42-year-old prize, which is annually awarded to the best English-language novel published in the British commonwealth. In addition to McCarthy, the other longlisted authors were Peter Carey (a two-time winner), Emma Donoghue, Damon Galgut, and Andrea Levy. The previous Jewish Man Booker winner appears to be Anita Brookner, who won for Hotel du Lac in 1984.
Jacobson, who had been longlisted twice before, accepted the award in London “to unusually loud and sustained applause,” reported The New York Times. He told the crowd: “I’m speechless. Fortunately I prepared one earlier. It’s dated 1983. That’s how long the wait’s been.” The head of the five-judge panel, Sir Andrew Motion, insisted that the long-time-coming quality of Jacobson’s win “never came into our minds.” He added, “Having said that, there is a particular pleasure in seeing somebody who is that good finally getting his just desserts.”
Want to read more about Jacobson? You’ve come to the right place! We published an interview with him on Monday. We published, for the first time in the United States, Jacobson’s sensational 1999 profile of American ping-pong champion Marty Reisman. And our books critic Adam Kirsch reviewed The Finkler Question last week. We also hosted him on a podcast nearly three years ago, even before he was a bigwig Man Booker shortlist-er.
Still not had enough? Check out this essay he published last Saturday on the definitional necessity for novels to be funny. And to give you an example of the Jacobsonian wit, please find (below the jump) an exchange that did not make it into the final cut of our interview, in which the novelist recalls which prominent American magazine chose not to publish his Reisman profile, and how he got revenge. (more…)