The book opens with a middle-aged man, Julian Treslove, getting mugged one night after a dinner with his friends Sam Finkler and Libor Sevcik. Sam and Libor are recently widowed; Julian has gone from one woman to the next, leaving the detritus of relationships — including two now-grown children — in his wake. Sam and Libor are Jews, which fascinates Julian. As he recovers from the shock of being mugged, his fascination turns into an obsession. He attempts to “become Jewish,” although in more of a cultural than religious sense.
At first, I thought perhaps I just didn’t understand the Jewish cultural references. And I really didn’t like the characters. Then I read a review that gave me hope, saying the second half of the book was better. I persevered. And it was better, but not enough to salvage it for me. It was a very “talky” book, with endless conversation about both big ideas and minutiae. I found the chapters devoted to Libor the most moving, as he mourned the recent loss of his wife. But Sam was a stuffy prat, and Julian was a selfish jerk.
I normally enjoy Booker Prize winners. But not this one.