Book Review: 'Zoo Time'



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Alan Cheuse reviews Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobsen's latest book, Zoo Time.

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Several years ago, the British writer Howard Jacobson won the Booker Prize for fiction. Now, he has a new novel called "Zoo Time." Our reviewer Alan Cheuse says, at times, the book misses its mark.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: My aim, writes English novelist Guy Ableman, the narrator of Howard Jacobson's odd new work of fiction, in a letter to his agent, is to write a transgressive novel that explores the limits of the morally permissible in our times. He goes on to ask: Who are the great blasphemers of our age? Not poets and writers. My hero is a stand-up comedian. This gives us a sense of the narrator's deep desperation about his writerly vocation. Readers, those that are left, don't read anything serious. Agents hide from their clients. And serious publishers, such as Ableman, commit suicide.

Moreover, the joke on which Ableman builds his story, his obsession with his busty mother-in-law, Poppy, and his hit-and-miss marriage with his novel-writing, flame-haired wife Vanessa, grows darker and darker and filthier and filthier for no good reason. Despite the writhing and wrenching that Jacobson puts his narrator through, the story becomes less and less comical and more and more pathetic. As that sometimes overly employed saying would have it - the one ascribed to at least half a dozen comic actors on their death beds - dying is easy, comedy is hard, even in the hands of a polished and practiced Booker Prize winner like Howard Jacobson.

SIEGEL: Jacobson's new novel is called "Zoo Time." It was reviewed by Alan Cheuse. His most recent book is a collection of novellas called "Paradise." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.