Sunday, May 26, 2013

Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson

I really wanted to like the award-winning comic novel Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson. I was to be disappointed.

The narrator, Guy (I have forgotten his last name) is a 43-year-old writer struggling in a world where readers and therefore books and writers have gone by the wayside. Book agents are hiding in lavatories rather than have a manuscript handed to them. Publishers are committing suicide as quickly as bookstores are shutting their doors. Author tweets have taken over for what used to be book promotions by publishing houses. Blogging has become what one fellow calls blagging.

Between making comments on this state of affairs, the narrator is obsessing about having an affair with his mother-in-law. So he decides to write a book about a man - not a writer as that would be too transparent, but a thinly disguised version of his younger self as he was when he worked in the women's clothing boutique owned by his mother - who obsesses about having an affair with his mother-in-law. 

Or something like that. 

I will admit that Mr. Jacobson has made some very funny and telling observations about books, writing, writers, publishing, dining out, fashion, models, and whatever else he can get his hands on. But, after fifteen chapters and one hundred and twenty pages (about one-third of the book) I have put the book down. 

I suppose this is a thoroughly modern novel. I wish I had counted how many times the f-word or its variations were used so that I could report that number to you. Not shocking, not amusing, just tedious. 

I guess when I recently made the statement that I like comic novels, I really meant I like comic novels from the time of Wodehouse and Thirkell. A time when there was romance not the f-word. A time when the dialog was witty and not sprinkled with, well, the f-word. A time when a prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings, ruled the world, not a zoo full of masturbating monkeys. 


  1. Quite frankly, I think most ALL the older books are best. Could that opinion have something to do with being older myself? hmm

    Joyce in KS

    1. Well, Joyce, I do seem to have bad luck with the newer books. I don't think of myself as a fuddy-duddy, but perhaps I have just become more discerning than when I was younger and wanted to read everything and anything!

      I find that the language and situations of some older books appeal to me more than some of the newer.

  2. Belle! I must agree wholeheartedly "tedious" is fine description, P.G. didn't need to resort to such banality to be funny, it MUST be age. I forgot to mention when you asked for input on "funny" novels, "Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis.

    1. Really, Tullik. We have heard it all before. We are not amused.

      Thanks for the 'Lucky Jim' suggestion. It has been on my list for a while. Maybe it is now time to get to it!