First ever Booker win for comic novel

Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question is the first exclusively humorous novel to receive the Man Booker Prize in the award’s 42-year history.

Jacobson, who describes himself as a ‘Jewish Jane Austen’ admits that he has been pining for the Man Booker Prize for a while, having come so close to winning it so many times.

“I have been increasingly talked about as underrated and I’m so sick of being described as the underrated Howard Jacobson. So the thought that's gone forever, is wonderful,” he told The Guardian, while adding that he will be spending the £50,000 prize money on a handbag for his wife.

The novel wrestles with the issue of Jewish identity through the story of two old friends, Julian Treslove and Sam Finkler. After the two recently widowed men meet up to reminisce over dinner, Treslove is attacked, with leads him to re-examine his entire life.

Jacobson won over Emma Donoghue’s Room (inspired by the grisly case of Josef Fritzl), Damon Galgut’s In a Strange Room, Andrea Levy’s The Long Song and Peter Carey’s Olivier and Parrot in America. Had Carey won (and many predicted that he would), it would have made him the award’s very first three-time winner.

The Finkler Question is also unique for the fact that it is a comic novel, a genre that had previously not had much luck in the awards circuit, particularly in the case of the Booker itself.

Former poet laureate and Booker judge Andrew Motion reassured that the prize was given based on the novel’s merits, but also commented on the fact that while it does an excellent job as a comedy, “it is also a in a very interesting way, a very sad, melancholic book. It is comic, it is laughter, but it is laughter in the dark... it is absolutely a book for grownups, for people who understand that comedy and tragedy are linked.”

The award had gone to Hilary Mantel’s historical novel Wolf Hall last year, which also inspired some discussion about how the genre of the historical novel seemed to have been experiencing a boost in reputation, as it was previously considered to be exclusively the domain of pulp fiction.