Howard Jacobson at Central Library, hosted by Rachel Cooke; 7 October 2017.

“Let’s take it as read—we all love Howard.”

When you’re three audience ‘questions’ down and the host has to step in to stem the lovefest, it probably means a couple of things.

  • The thinkers in the room have been given a few things to chew over.
  • It’s hard to dislike Jacobson in the flesh.

When it comes to the world of internet comments though, there’s a less generous atmosphere—and he tells us it’s getting worse. His most recent opinion piece about dressing for the theatre had the most ferocious digital backlash of all. We’re left imagining Jacobson cowering before the screen, opera cape raised towards top hat, the monocle popping from his head at the vehement ire of the tracksuited, Carmen-loving masses. It leads to an interesting conversation about the changing temperature of debate in the digital age, and his latest novel concerns the hottest topic out there.

Howard Jacobson, writer of a lot of books, winner of a lot of prizes, is here to talk about Pussy, a satirical fable based on the current president of the USA.

He recounts the germ of it all, the night of the election—he was tucked up in bed when a malevolent spirit began calling his name. The ghost of Hillary Clinton, seeking vengeance. The writing began six hours later and finished six weeks after that. That’s fast. The need for speed, the need to vent, was for one reason—he gave up his column in The Independent in April 2016 in the full-frontal belief he had nothing left to comment on (thus proving novelists don’t always have the second-sight) and he needed an outlet.

At one point, Jacobson compares the hosts of Fox News to doxies. “Doxies?!” shrieks an audience member, convulsing into me. The titters are rolling all night, which makes things difficult for the reviewer who takes a laugh as his cue to get down a quote.

Pussy is set in a city state whose main industry is tower creation. Fracassus is a man-child without words, heir to a dynasty, lover of celebrity TV. Brits Caleb Hopsack (Nigel Farage—remember him?) and Philander (Boris J—still knocking about) feature, as does a Jacobson stand in attempting to tutor Fracassus. You’d better read up quick—the book is aging fast. Nothing that’s come out about Trump since he took office in January will be in here.

Rachel Cooke, hosting, points out there is one name in the book that wasn’t disguised: Corbyn. Corbyn is ‘the next big problem’ according to Jacobson—and he can’t decide whether he dislikes more the idea of a leader who has not changed his mind in 65 years (old Corbyn) or one who starts dabbling in the never-ending flip-flop of realpolitik (new Corbyn).

‘You think you encounter the worst of the right of politics, then you encounter the left of politics’ he says, specifically referring to the look of horror on Bernie Sanders’ face when he presented him with a copy of Pussy.

We’re assumed to be a lot of things tonight—remainers, anti-Corbyn, anti-Trump, pro-Hilary—we’re those elusive metropolitan liberal elite we’ve heard so much about.

‘This book is for us’, he says.

So, we’re in here with our books and our authors and they’re out there with their…what?

At one point, Jacobson notes that despite his Booker win in 2010 his sales are nothing like they were in the 80s.

Perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to say that the Central Library looks like a bubble. It’s a bit round I suppose.

Henry Cockburn

Comments are closed.