Review Live a Little, Howard Jacobson By Barbara Michaels

Published by Jonathan Cape ISBN 978-1-787-33143-3

Price: £ 7.37 paperback, £9.99 Kindle (Amazon)

Perceptive, erudite prose honed to perfection with a dry acerbic humour is what we have come to expect from Howard Jacobson.  His latest novel, Live a Little, more than justifies those expectations. Jacobson reaches – and maintains throughout – a degree of empathy (not to be mistaken for sympathy) with the two central protagonists -both of them reaching their twilight years.

A colourful yet totally believable character, at the age of ninety-something Beryl Dusinbery is forgetting everything – including her own children.  Nevertheless, with plenty of dosh and worldly goods to cushion her final years, plus two devoted carers, she is still one sparky lady.  Shimi Carmelli, on the other hand, is best described as a nebbish, full of doubts about himself and harbouring a guilty secret.  Despite this, he is still presentable enough to be considered by the Widows of North London (as formidable a bunch of predatory blue-rinsed females as you could find anywhere) a Catch.  

When Beryl and Shimi meet up, there is a rapport between them as each reaches back among tangled memories of the past – some real, others cloaked in cloud.  Memories both fond and painful rise to the surface, with some surprising results.  Jacobson both intrigues and at times irritates; dense italics over several pages can, and do, slow down the narrative.  Nevertheless, as the text delves in and out of the past into the present and back again, the reader is driven onwards, compelled by the insight into the foibles of old age dealt out mercilessly by the author in a combination of empathy and wit, both in the sharpest of spot-on prose that holds the reader in thrall through to the end.

Defined by its brilliance of language and complexity of reach, this, the latest novel of an award-winning author, including the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for The Finkler Question, can only be described as a tour de force.  Powerful, unflinching in its approach yet at times hilarious, with an amazingly intelligent yet readable prose, Live A Little was described by John Burnside of The Guardian as being worthy of being seen as “The dystopian British novel of its times.”

 A journey both backwards and forwards in two lives, warts and all.  Pulling all the punches, and bitterly observant of the foibles of advancing years, yet acknowledging that sexual desire can take many forms – and that love can lurk beneath the most unlikely surfaces.

                                                                                                              Barbara Michaels

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