Study Guide

The Finkler Question

by Howard Jacobson

The Finkler Question Summary

Summary

Julian Treslove, a healthy, obsessive 49-year-old man and failure in professional life, is mugged one night on a busy London street by a woman. This act becomes the central event of the novel, The Finkler Question.

While the plot may at first seem slightly unfocused, brooding and ruminative, Jacobson’s work is deceptively consistent in its fixation on the thematic question at its core: what does it mean to be Jewish in the contemporary England?

In three parts, The Finkler Question tells the story of three men, each with a different relationship to being Jewish. The first man, Treslove, is a gentile who dreams of becoming Jewish and eventually takes up with a Jewish woman in his obsessive attempt to redefine himself.

The other two men are actually Jewish and each receives direct narrative treatment in the text, swapping places with Treslove and becoming the temporary protagonists of the story.

Samuel Finkler, a television personality and writer of pop-philosophy self-help books, is a Jew who professes not to like the company of other Jews. Finkler’s great friend, Libor Sevcik, is a retired celebrity columnist, nearing ninety years old, who maintains an extended disagreement with Finkler on the question of Israel. Each man is a widower having recently lost his wife.

Structured and styled to explore the perspectives of all three men, The Finkler Question provides direct access to the thoughts of Treslove, Finkler, and Sevcik through a “familiar” third-person narrative point of view with each man’s neurotic fixations fully on display.

Julian Treslove and his fixations constitute the greatest portion of The Finkler Question beginning at the opening of the novel. Treslove’s boyhood is recounted in broad strokes along with his professional career. As a teenager, Treslove visits a psychic who tells him that he will one day meet a woman named June or Juno and find both love and danger.

For years Treslove weighs the prophecy and habitually falls in love with women whose names resemble June or Juno, always wondering if the current love is the fulfillment of the prophecy. Fatalism and romanticism are both exaggerated in Treslove and have equal power over him, his girlfriends often leaving him because of this coupled set of traits.

Recalling the mothers of his two children, Treslove thinks over the death arias of operas he used to sing with each woman. They both leave him without telling him they are pregnant yet also both name their sons after characters from the operas, Rudolpho and Alfredo.

The novel’s first action comes when Treslove goes to dinner at the home of Libor Sevcik. Libor, Treslove, and Samuel Finkler discuss Israel and bond over the shared grief of recently losing their wives, which Treslove must imagine as he has never been married.

After dinner, Treslove meanders on the streets of London near the BBC where he once worked, peering into storefront windows and reminiscing about his childhood. Breaking into his reverie, someone comes close to Treslove and demands his valuables. He is assaulted in front of a music store, and mugged for his wallet, watch and cell-phone.

The person mugging him is a woman who delivers an enigmatic epithet as she leaves Treslove on the well-lit street where he has been mugged.

Shaken by the encounter, Treslove tries to make out what the woman said to him and struggles to come to a conclusion. He is mildly injured in the mugging but more importantly has been given a new...

(The entire section is 1444 words.)