The 68-year-old writer and critic, who specialises in writing about what it means to be Jewish in Britain today, was the rank outsider with bookmaker Ladbrokes ahead of the announcement, while Tom McCarthy’s C was firm favourite.
Jacobson, whose first novel appeared 27 years ago, said he had begun to wonder whether he would ever win the prize, now in its 42nd year. “I was truly flabbergasted,” he told reporters after receiving the award in the medieval splendour of London’s Guildhall. “I’m so sick of being described as the ‘underrated Howard Jacobson’.
“They (Man Booker judges) took me in their arms a little bit in the longlist, the shortlist felt like an embrace. I never thought the affair was going to be consummated.” Poet Andrew Motion, chair of the judges, said it would be a mistake to describe Jacobson’s work as pure comedy: “It is comic, it is laughter, but it’s laughter in the dark.”
The Finkler Question follows friends Libor and Sam, both Jewish widowers, and Julian as they contemplate the crises of identity and loss. Edward Docx, writing in the Observer, praised Jacobson for using Judaism to tackle universal themes: “As all serious artists do, he is mining his immediate milieu as a way of directly unearthing the deeper questions of family, society, belief, culture, relationships — the underlying nature of humanity.”
As well as a cheque for £50,000 and a long list of interview requests from the world’s media, Jacobson can expect to see sales of his latest novel soar.