Review: J by Howard Jacobson

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It’s hard to describe my reaction to J by Howard Jacobson. It’s not exactly what one could call positive. Mostly it’s just confusing.

J is about Kevern Cohen, a woodworker in a small seaside village that mostly gets by on fishing and insularity. The world has been through some semblance of a human atrocity, referred to in the story as WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED, or WHAT HAPPENED for short. Kevern is basically a hermit and obsessive compulsive to boot. He’s thrown in with Ailinn by town do-gooders, or people who seem to be do-gooders.

The world around the couple is pretty terrible. The people there are mean without cause, constantly apologizing, and unceasingly restless. They have no sense of their past or who they were, but to say that they aren’t city-folk.

There are a lot of plots in the story, but not much of a sense of totalitarianism or urgency in people’s actions. There never really seems to be any suspense.

Perhaps more strange, J isn’t really a character story. Often times it just seems like a story for the sake of being a story. There isn’t any character or relationship building and the plots end without much sense of consequence for what happened.

Compounding the story’s strangeness, the phrasings and compound sentences often make Jacobson’s meaning totally indecipherable.

2/5 stars.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review via


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