Review-' The Act of Love' Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson ‘The Act of Love.’ Jonathan Cape 2008

The premise is that we, that is, men, are all of the tribe of Masoch or De Sade and Howard Jacobson has sought to prove his theory by writing a novel. But for the characters in a story this is fatal, for like marionettes they jostle to appeal to every tug on the strings from the master above, and every tug is apparent. Apparent tugs + novel or short story = FATAL. Therein, feisty young scribbler lies your Creative Writing MA. I cast it before you as you snuffle in the steamingshitepile of literary theory.
“No husband is ever happy-truly, genuinely happy, happy at the very heart of himself as a husband-until he has proof positive that another man is fucking her.”
It is not the poverty of the concept but it’s candyfloss lightness, it’s trivial quality.
Oh dear: Felix, Marissa and Marius, the three principal characters of this flirty little novel never really get a chance to stand up and walk around. Consequently you are never really bothered by them or by what happens to them. And the thing is, you have to be bothered for tragedy to happen, for sex to happen, you have to give a damn.
Howard Jacobson has been an excellent writer elsewhere but betrays in this book a certain laziness or authorial arrogance. The opening quote from Bataille’s ‘Eroticism’ sets the pretension bar high-not the fear of loss but the “threshold of a swoon is the price of rapture.” Like many other aphoristic nuggets from the continental crew who Bataille swung with, we unpack the shell to find a hard little ball of shit inside.
And Howard Jacobson does sometimes have a tendency to be sniffy. Like many who perhaps suffer little insecurities he wears his learning heavily and sometimes, unbidden I have raised my eyes from this book’s pages and shouted out ‘PONCE!’ to the blank walls. You probably do not know me but I assure you, that this is not indicative of my normal behaviour.
This is not a novel of eroticism but of neuroticism. The book does however contain a marvellous little chapter on Felix’s visit to an S&M club which is hilarious. I imagine the author did his research wearing a horrified expression.
On page 204 of my copy a sentence reads “ I had hardly behaved like the revolutionary of sex I believed myself to me.” Most appropriate, for the author’s ego is always peering up from the pages of this book-it’s all me me me.
It all ends with a whimper, as if Howard has himself become exhausted with the pretence of these cartoon characters.
Described by the late Harold Pinter on my copy as a ‘tour de force’ I am once again drawn to consideration of these writers reviewing each others books-something smells. This, I assure you, is not a tour de force.
Howard you can do better than this! It’s not good enough! Get your finger out!

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