Comic novel wins UK Man Booker Prize for first time

Tue Oct 12, 2010 6:55pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - British author Howard Jacobson was the surprise winner of the Man Booker Prize on Tuesday for "The Finkler Question," the first comic novel to scoop one of the English-speaking world's most coveted literary awards.

The 68-year-old writer and critic, who specialises in writing about what it means to be Jewish in Britain today, was the rank outsider with bookmaker Ladbrokes ahead of the announcement, while Tom McCarthy's "C" was firm favorite.

Jacobson, whose first novel appeared 27 years ago, said he had begun to wonder whether he would ever win the prize, now in its 42nd year.

"I was truly flabbergasted," he told reporters after receiving the award in the medieval splendor of London's Guildhall. "I'm so sick of being described as the 'underrated Howard Jacobson'.

"They (Man Booker judges) took me in their arms a little bit in the longlist, the shortlist felt like an embrace. I never thought the affair was going to be consummated."

Poet Andrew Motion, chair of the judges, said it would be a mistake to describe Jacobson's work as pure comedy: "It is comic, it is laughter, but it's laughter in the dark."

The Finkler Question follows friends Libor and Sam, both Jewish widowers, and Julian as they contemplate the crises of identity and loss. Edward Docx, writing in the Observer, praised Jacobson for using Judaism to tackle universal themes:

"As all serious artists do, he is mining his immediate milieu as a way of directly unearthing the deeper questions of family, society, belief, culture, relationships -- the underlying nature of humanity."   Continued...

<p>Howard Jacobson, one of the shortlisted authors for the 2010 Man Booker Prize, poses with his book "The Finkler Question", in London October 10, 2010. The winner of the 50,000 pound ($76,790) prize, which can catapult an unknown author to worldwide success, will be announced on October 12. REUTERS/Paul Hackett</p>