IN HIS LATEST novel, Howard Jacobson sounds more and more like a Jewish Kingsley Amis - which was always the direction he seemed to be going in anyway. His leading male character, Henry Nagel, generally sounds irritable rather than passionately angry - a little weary of the world, but not quite ready to admit defeat just yet - and is given to sly asides of mock-misogyny which don't entirely convince. At heart, you feel, Henry Nagel knows very well that he needs a woman in his life just as much as the next man. Oh, and of course he also gets irritated by such old dependables as the objectionable dress-sense of the young (and even worse, the would-be young), 'slobbing about in running shoes with writing on them'. Sex, death and the "eh ashes of the modern world: very Amis Sr. But what .,Jacobson has striven to add to the mix,. by, and large succeeding, are a genuine warmth and a mellower, more latitudmarian attitude towards his characters and their multiple failings, which render them considerably more endearing. Having led a largely uneventful and wholly uncommitted life for nearly sixty years, Henry Nagel one day discovers that he has inherited a swish apartment in St John's Wood. Soon after, feeling rejuvenated, he finds himself falling hopelessly in love with a beautiful, self-possessed and slightly wild fortysomething waitress at his local caf6 who goes by the name of Moira Aultbach. It is typical of Henry that he has been fantasising that her real name might be something like Margarita of Savoy. This is a man with his feet firmly in the air. He is further taken aback to realise that the caf6 itself is called Aultbach's. He has been chatting up the proprietress, not the waitress. Henry's faintly patronising attitude to women is often upset in this way.
And this time, unlike the many previous times, he feels like it's real. He can't even eat properly. 'This is how you know you're in love when you're Henry's age,' we are told. 'It feels like indigestion.' Some mornings, he and his equally late-middle-aged neighbour, Lachlan, can do no more