Howard Jacobson - Zoo Time
A black comedy themed around the death of publishing
There isn’t a single character in Howard Jacobson’s new novel that you would want to spend time with. None of them, from protagonist to bit-part player, has enough good qualities to render
friendship an appealing prospect. Yet Zoo Time hooks you from the start, largely due to Jacobson’s ability to shape a sentence and build a paragraph with almost architectural finesse. In an age where beach reads or Nordic crime dominate the fiction charts, Jacobson takes the time to craft lines that are so perfectly executed, they deserve to be read twice. Possibly even aloud, to fully appreciate the comedic value of his prose.
Despite a sustained focus on the slow death of publishing, humour still drips off every page, perhaps because, rather than in spite of, this fact. Zoo Time feels like a last hurrah, as literature and novel-writing heads over the top into a battle it can’t win. That’s what the book’s ‘hero’, Guy Ableman, thinks anyway. With his previous outpouring about to go out of print, and new material difficult to mine, novelist Ableman spends an inordinate amount of time imagining inappropriate scenarios with his mother-in-law. The desire to use these fantasies in his writing also features heavily, as do the constant rounds of book festivals, talks and meetings with agents/publishers that dominate a writer’s life.
But it is Ableman’s relationship with the two women in his life – his wife Vanessa, and her mother, Poppy – that Jacobson centres on. A fascinating, often hilarious but also deeply sad triumvirate, which holds our gaze but keeps us ever so slightly at arm’s length.