As Howard Jacobson has found to his amusement, labels stick. The author of the 2010 Man Booker winning novel The Finkler Question, who once famously described himself as a 'Jewish Jane Austen' rather than an 'English Philip Roth', says, "I should have said male Jane Austen, but Jewish sounded
Jacobson, who is also addressing a session on 'The Jewish Novel' [at 6 pm, Monday], shrugs off that label too. "I am not a Jewish novelist, I am an English novelist. I don't write in Yiddish or Hebrew, I write in English. But yes, I write about Jewish things, Jewish thinking, Jewish jokes."
Critics might have hailed The Finkler Question as a comic novel, but Jacobson disagrees. "I don't think it's a comic novel, it's actually one of my most tragic novels. It has funny scenes, but it's the melancholy of the book which people remember and which swung the prize for me."
Comedy, he feels, divides people - they either love it or, more often than not, hate it. "It is aggressive. When you laugh, you laugh at something and people find it offensive. In England, comedy may be our god, but not in literature."
His new novel, Zoo Time, is a wildly funny read about a writer who embodies contemporary anxieties (founded and unfounded) about the future of literature - reading on Kindle and iPad, internet publishing phenomena like Fifty Shades of Grey , Amazon reviews and much more. Do his views coincide with those of his protagonist?
"I'm glad you don't think he's me, like many people do. Guy Ableman (Zoo Time's protagonist) is an exaggeration. But I wouldn't have invented him, if I didn't want an opportunity to say these things," Jacobson said.
Does he mistrust technology? "Well, I'd rather kids read books on Kindle than not at all." And what about that untamed mammoth known as the Internet? "The Internet has made everyone a writer and critic. It has democratised judgment, which should be a more refined thing. You don't need a degree in literature to critique, but you do need knowledge."