The British novelist and critic Howard Jacobson was born in 1942 in Manchester and studied English Literature under FR Leavis at Downing College, Cambridge. He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to Britain to teach at Selwyn College in Cambridge. From 1974 to 1980, he taught at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, an experience which provided him with the basis for his debut novel »Coming from Behind« (1983), a campus comedy about a polytechnic that unsuccessfully tries to share its facilities with the local football club. In 1987, after two more novels, he published »In the Land of Oz« (published in Germany as ‘Im Herzen der Sehnsucht’) an account of a journey he took around Australia.
Often described as ‘the English Philip Roth’, Jacobson prefers the title of ‘the Jewish Jane Austen’, not because he doesn’t admire Roth but because his literary influences are more English than American, and while there is a distinct Jewish note to his comedy, there is also an Anglo-Saxon acerbity and savagery. »Who’s Sorry Now?« (2002) and »Kalooki Nights« (2006) were both nominated for the Man Booker Prize. The latter novel, described by the author as »the most Jewish novel that has ever been written by anybody, anywhere«, is told from the perspective of a Jewish cartoonist who recalls his childhood in a suburb in 1950s Britain. With the help of a neighbor he begins to comprehend the effects of the Holocaust and examine the complexities of a postwar Jewish identity. »The Act of Love« (2008) dramatizes the allure of sexual jealousy. With »The Finkler Question« (2010), Jacobson returns to Jewish themes, asking what it means to be Jewish at a time when anti-Semitism is migrating from the Right of politics to the intellectual Left. »Zoo Time« (2012), which won The Everyman Bollinger Wodehouse Prize for Comic Writing, is a biting satire on the decline of literary culture in our time. His next novel, »J«, is a uncharacteristically bleak dystopian tale that imagines a world from which the Js have finally been removed. »J« was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker prize.
Finally, his adaptation »Shylock is My Name« (2016), in which Jacobson demonstrates his profound knowledge of Shakespeare’s works, challenges the prejudiced relationship between Christians and Jews and questions the high valuation which has always been accorded Portia and her famous speech on mercy. At the centre of this novel is Shylock himself, still alive in the contemporary world, and still with much to say about the treatment he received as a Jew in Venice, and the way Jews are regarded today. Jacobson has long had a fascination for Shakespeare; his very first publication, »Shakespeare’s Magnanimity«, was an essayistic approach to the work of England’s national poet.
Howard Jacobson’s novel »The Finkler Question« won the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, Britain’s most prestigious literary award. The author lives in London.