Howard Jacobson: ‘Writing is beyond shock’

Expectations were high when Bertelsmann’s Representative Office Unter den Linden 1 in Berlin announced a book reading with DVA author Howard Jacobson. Jacobson is considered one of the most humorous authors in the UK and the only author ever to receive the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize twice, the most important British award for humoristic literature. Along with German actor Heikko Deutschmann and the host, journalist Shelly Kupferberg, he did not disappoint his audience: reading and discussions took place with plenty of humor and passion.

First, Jacobson, the Man Booker Prize winner, read the first chapter of his novel “Zoo Time”, which DVA published in September under the German title “Im Zoo”. Then he passed on the book to Heikko Deutschmann, who read chapters two and three with lots of joy. “Zoo Time” tells the story of Guy Ableman, a driven man. Completely addicted to his beautiful and intelligent wife, he also desires her no less attractive mother. Not only do these two rob him of his peace of mind, but his work also robs him of sleep. His publisher killed himself, vampire books have displaced his novels from the bookstores and he lacks any inspiration for a new book. Perhaps the liaison with his stepmother might provide material for a last, big masterpiece…

The following discussion with host Kupferberg and the audience was less about his new book and more about literature in general, including the currently changing reading behavior. Jacobson said he has the impression that an increasing number of readers expect a novel to reflect themselves, as though a novel were a selfie. Blogs are not a new form of literature for him either; rather, they are “the ultimate written selfies”. Many readers complain that a book is “too exhausting” and too demanding. Jacobson has no understanding for this, but he emphasized that “this is precisely what’s exciting about a good novel.” Thrillers, however, are not real literature in his view but rather “airport reading matter”. And, last but not least, it is barely possible today to shake up readers with his own texts. “Writing is beyond shock,” Howard Jacobson summed it up.