What Will Survive of Us by Howard Jacobson - review by Jude Cook

Jude Cook

Bondage Clubs of Berkshire

What Will Survive of Us

By

Jonathan Cape 304pp £20) order from our bookshop
 

In his seventeenth novel, What Will Survive of Us, the veteran Booker Prize-winning writer Howard Jacobson returns to the subject of autumnal romance, which he took up in 2019 with his previous novel, Live a Little, a tender and unusually vigorous tale about the flowering of love between two nonagenarians on the Finchley Road. The couple at the centre of the new work, when we first meet them, are maddening middle-aged metropolitans, Lily Redfern and Sam Quaid, a documentary maker and feted playwright respectively. After reading both books, one concludes that nobody does love and ageing better than Jacobson. 

The book begins with a single word, ‘Kerpow!’, describing the coup de foudre Lily experiences when she first sees Sam – or Quaid, as she comes to refer to him. It’s 1995 and Lily is forty-seven and stuck in a passionless marriage. When she’s tasked with making a film about Quaid, a ‘Once-Wunderkind’ dramatist, she knows it’s a job she’s eminently qualified for: ‘Difficult writers were her speciality. Pigs, prigs, pricks, pedants – they all were thrown her way.’ She’s smitten from the start. Quaid is pushing fifty, mired in an equally stale marriage and looking for adventure. Both are child-free and still idealistic about the potential love can hold for artistic and spiritual rebirth.

So it’s apt that Lily, following in the footsteps of D H Lawrence, chooses Taos in Mexico as the backdrop for her documentary. It’s here that the couple first sleep together. They quickly sink into ‘that routine of subterfuge and depression well known to adulterers’. Lawrence, of course, is one

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