Friday, 18 January 2013

Writer’s Note 1: Howard Jacobson’s Zoo Time

Following from my last post about the intensity of listening to books on audio this is my Writer’s Note  on the first of these books. This is a highly personal excercise. It is not a review; it is my note  on elements that impress me as a writer and ways in which I - as a writer - can learn something  from this book. 

Here we go!

The writer. Hard not to believe this is not highly autobiographical. But one can trace this with all good writers. Enhanced by being narrated in Abelson’s first person point of view. Whatever the the fact fiction allows witty exaggerations in all directions and makes the novel unique.

The writing. Highly literary even when it is being scatological. Tight complex use of syntax to support the changes of pace and the mood of the narrator. Lots of word-play and syntactical play showing off how the cleverness of Guy Ableman. Extremely comples writing made trasparent making the book both human and accessible.

Central character: Guy Ableman. Probably like Jacobson, Ableman has a disputatious mind. Abelman is highly self aware and in his narration shows us a peculiar combination of arrogance and intellectual passive aggression. Timid on the one hand and, on the other a writer of impious disturbance.(His own term). He is often his own target – using full on sexual assertions and innuendo like a naughty boy.  The central theme of the story is his obsession with both his wife and her mother:  a very original triangle.


Publishing and the writer’s life. Hilariously sharp, insightful observation of the publishing trade – writers, editors, agents, literary festivals all fall to his forensic wit. (Found myself saying Yes! Yes!) Has no time for people who make a habit of being cultured, declaring that if you ‘keep people away from art and judgement they are good.’
‘Belief contains its own parody.’ – wish I’d said that!
Complex and evolving assertions the impact of religion on identity – particularly the Jewish identity – trickle right through the whole text, enriching it and giving it true savour.
Like Jacobso , Ableman is often seen as mysogynistic – he has a witty take on this view of his work – he observes women closely with over-focused adoration laced with fear. His apparent humility masks a kind of amazed suspicion. It is a unique, not a mysogynistic view. Jacobson’s subtle prose demonstrates Ableman’s affection for and fascination with the women in his life. But, as Abelman  says. ‘Tenderness is a fine thing but it is not understanding.

I have learned a lot. I think there are elements of humour in my novels but  sustaining this level of true, meaningful comedy throughout what is essentially a serious novel takes a special gift.

Next David Baldacci: The Forgotten.


  1. I find Jacobson very funny in person, but haven't read his books. Maybe I should. Just off to New Zealand and Cambodia and not back until March, so won't be on the blogosphere much except to do a bit of a travelogue for friends and family on the blog.
    Hope all is going well with you Wendy!
    best wishes

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. You are my travelling icon. Have a lovely and interesting time. I am sure the New Zealanders love the new Kathleen Mansfield book. Will miss your blogging but one has to live as well as blog. I recommend Jacobson - it is a big leap from being funny in person to being funny on the page, Worth a read,
      We must catch up when you finally get back to England,



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