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J by Howard Jacobson

Sarah Broadhurst's view...

Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2014.

Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014.

For thirty years Jacobson has stuck to his roots, mining his own life for material … until now for, with this book, he has switched to making things up. The result is a triumph. Set in the future and revolving round a tender love story, Jacobson has created a strange society. Hanging over everything is an event, or series of events, that happened some time in the 2010/20s, referred to as What Happened, if it Happened. Gradually we learn more. The lovers are innocent which gives an emotional intensity to the whole thing as we flit back through family histories. This is a rich and important book, utterly brilliant.

If you like Howard Jacobson you might also like to read books by Jonathan Franzen, Kazuo Ishiguro and Michael Frayn.

Who is Sarah Broadhurst

The Good Book Guide logo The Good Book Guide Review. Howard Jacobson has broken new ground with his latest novel, setting it in a dystopian world where history books are hard to come by, diaries have been hidden or destroyed, and libraries put obstacles in the way of research. The shadow hanging over this society is a cataclysm that is only obliquely referred to as ‘WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED’. Everything and everyone is affected by the disaster that dare not speak its name, and that includes the couple called Ailinn and Kervern, whose romance is at the heart of this book. They even doubt how real their love for each other could be in a world where freedom is questioned and each move may be monitored by some sinister controlling force. This is a powerful, thought-provoking novel that still contains those classic elements of sardonic wit and dark humour that are a hallmark of Jacobson’s work.
~ Anthony Lafferty

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J by Howard Jacobson

Set in the future, 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. Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn't know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn't then, and isn't now, the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn't ask who hurt her. Brutality has grown commonplace. They aren't sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they've been pushed into each other's arms. But who would have pushed them, and why? Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe - a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened. J is a novel to be talked about in the same breath as Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World, thought provoking and life changing. It is like no other novel that Howard Jacobson has written.

Browse inside this book


A mighty novel. Observer Remarkable... May well come to be seen as the dystopian British novel of its times Guardian Thrilling and enigmatic New York Times Book Review Snarling, effervescent and ambitious... Jacobson's triumph is to craft a novel that is poignant as well as troubling Independent Jacobson...goes from strength to strength. -- William Leith Evening Standard Very little about Jacobson's circuitous romance-cum-murder mystery is straightforward - other than its originality and its devastating brilliance. -- Stephanie Cross Daily Mail A dystopia that invites comparison with George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World Sunday Times Mystifying, serious and blackly funny. -- Max Liu Independent on Sunday To say J is unlike any other novel Jacobson has written would be misleading: the same ferocious wit runs throughout... That said, comparisons do not do full justice to Jacobson's achievement in what may well come to be seen as the dystopian British novel of its times. -- John Burnside Guardian A snarling, effervescent and ambitious philosophical work of fiction... Jacobson's triumph is to craft a novel that is poignant as well as troubling. -- James Kidd Independent Jacobson once jokingly referred to himself as a Jewish Jane Austen. Here he reinvents himself as a Jewish Aldous Huxley - and displays mastery in the role. -- Max Davidson Mail on Sunday Jacobson has crafted an immersive, complex experience with care and guile. -- Anthony Cummins Observer J is a remarkable achievement: an affecting, unsettling - and yes, darkly amusing - novel. -- Matthew Adams National A provocatively dystopian novel that depicts a disturbingly nice world. Sunday Times Sufficient testament to a writer who is...producing some of his most powerful work. Irish Independent A subtle, topical, thought-provoking and painfully uncomfortable novel. -- John Sutherland The Times You can't help feeling that this is an important book, and it's hugely compelling... Worthy of its status as a Booker long-listee. -- Emma Herdman UK Press Syndication Jacobson's most significantly Jewish book and quite possibly his masterpiece. Standpoint The persistent reader will be duly rewarded, as the denouement reveals a hidden logic and the book climaxes with a brilliant literary (and philosophical) coup. Sunday Business Post Contemporary literature is overloaded with millenarian visions of destroyed landscapes and societies in flames, but Jacobson has produced one that feels frighteningly new by turning the focus within: the ruins here are the ruins of language, imagination, love itself. -- Tim Martin Daily Telegraph The savagery of his imagery and his conclusions are impossible to forget, and maybe even to deny. Herald Confounds expectations but confirms Jacobson's reputation. New Statesman I loved this book. A compelling tale that is bound to be a hot contender for the Booker. -- Rebecca Wallersteiner Lady Impressive, disturbingly timely - a massive step aside and a noticeable step up from most of his other fiction. -- Bharat Tandon Times Literary Supplement A pivotal - and impressive change of direction for [Jacobson]. -- Gerald Isaaman UK Press Syndication Sentence by sentence, he remains perhaps the best British author around. -- James Walton Spectator This is Jacobson at his provocative, surprising, brilliant best. -- Kate Saunders Saga Magazine Thrilling written and the most ambitious work on the shortlist... Once you've worked out what's going on, you'll be gripped by its hints of an anti-Semitic armageddon. Mail on Sunday It's stark and daring. -- Gaby Wood Telegraph A brilliant conspiracy yarn examining the manipulation of collective memory. Mail on Sunday

About the Author

Howard Jacobson

An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Howard Jacobson was born in Manchester, brought up in Prestwich and was educated at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield, and Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied under F. R. Leavis. He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to teach at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His novels include The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), the highly acclaimed The Act of Love, the 2010 Man Booker Prize-winning, The Finkler Question and, most recently, Zoo Time. Howard Jacobson lives in Soho, London.

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Book Info

Publication date

14th August 2014


Howard Jacobson

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Jonathan Cape Ltd an imprint of Vintage


336 pages


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Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)



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