Review of J: A Novel – Howard Jacobsen

Posted: January 9, 2015 in Review, science fiction


I should have known when I saw the “Long-listed for Man Booker Prize 2014” tag on the cover, that I wouldn’t get far with this novel. And I didn’t. A combination of ennui and distaste for the lacklustre characters, together with a sense of “this is going nowhere in particular” caused me to give up by page fifty. It reminded me unpleasantly of the sort of book they made you read in English class, back in the 1970’s. And not 1984 or Brave New World either (to which J is inaccurately compared on the back cover). Those works had setting and plot. They went somewhere. Here you have an intriguing futuristic setting: “What happened, if it happened” lies somewhere in a past hidden behind a wall of unofficial censorship. But there’s no real development of that idea I can see, flicking through unread pages. There’s much better dystopian fiction out there, but because it’s genre fiction and popular, it isn’t literature and it won’t win the prizes or the accolades. Which just shows how much those prizes are worth – a label to tell me and many others which books not to read.

Jonathan Cape

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jacqui


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