Jewish victimhood has long been a source of troubled comedy in the work of Howard Jacobson. Max Glickman in Kalooki Nights (2006) has a ‘shiksa’ wife who makes a fetish out of Holocaust forgiveness; in The Finkler Question (2010), the non-Jewish protagonist becomes convinced he’s been the target of an anti-Semitic attack. Victimhood for Jacobson is a currency, always available for co-option: bleeding-heart Jews latch on to Palestinian suffering; Gentiles envy the moral high ground the Shoah accords. Meanwhile, the very real history of Jewish persecution looms heavy and ambiguous over the author’s satires.
Jacobson’s latest novel, J – the title could be his alone – is a departure in terms of genre but not concern. Jacobson’s previous work has been solidly contemporary; J is set in a dystopian future and arrives laden with bold comparisons to Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World. It