Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Zoo Time by Howard Jacobson

Maybe I've just read too many metafictional novels or just wasn't in the mood for so-called "literary" fiction at the moment, but I had a hard time really getting into Howard Jacobson's Zoo Time. Jacobson is heralded as a funny writer, and I could see what was supposed to be funny, but it wasn't for me. Only when I was about 100 pages in did I start appreciating the book, but considering that the narrator Guy keeps lamenting that nobody reads anymore, I think that's fair.

The novel is very much a novel about writing. Guy Ableman is a semi-successful author who is currently going down along with the rest of the publishing industry. Female readers complain that he doesn't understand women, his publisher has just committed suicide, and it seems that the rest of the industry are all constantly constipated. Lacking inspiration, Guy turns to his real-life fantasy for material. He wants to write about having an affair with his mother-in-law Poppy, much to the despair of his agent, who feels that this material will appeal to noone. But when his wife Vanessa finally gets serious about her threats to write, things really start looking dark for our "hero".

The parallels are not lost on the reader. What Guy wishes to do in his novel, Jacobson essentially does in Zoo Time. While Guy is watching the book industry crumble, Jacobson is also commenting on a declining industry.

I have to admit that the more I read, the more I enjoyed the book. Guy isn't easy to sympathize with, but one can still enjoy the read. And the ending is just priceless. I kind of had the feeling that Guy pretty much deserved all the misfortunes that came his way, and this is turned around towards the end.

I didn't laugh as much as the "funny" on the book cover suggested I ought to, but then again, Guy does point out that having that branding on the cover of one's book is a guarantee to make people not find it funny. 

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