I recently read Howard Jacobson’s ‘Zoo Time’. I wish I’d read it before I wrote my ‘Fan Fiction and other Guff’ post, I could have saved myself a lot of time and effort by simply saying ‘read his book’. It’s interesting for me in particular as the character comes from Wilmslow, a place I know well. My father was the manager of the Employment Exchange there in the 1970s. The clientele of Jacobson’s character’s boutique is from a slightly later period than I remember. There was more old money around then, although that was mostly in Mobberley and Alderley vice Wilmslow and the first WAGs were about, although not yet labouring under that name. The place had an air of desperately, no, enthusiastically, wanting to sell out to a sort of post Thatcherite culture before its time, a barrow boy mentality of stacking anything high and selling it very dearly to any mug who would go for the glitz and bling. The rugby club was all flash and as it turned out no trousers when professionalism came along. Odd because that is exactly the sort of entrepreneurism the town loved.
Personal resonance aside (at least the geographical kind) Zoo time uses the vehicle of a writer writing about a writer (as Jacobson says – the sign that he is finished!). In fact he hammers the irony home by writing about a writer writing about writing and indeed about a writer writing about writing a piece where he wants the character to be a writer but he decides he has to make him a comedian. Unsurprisingly he fails. Not Jacobson who succeeds as he nearly always does, but the character of the writer he creates. He fails not only in this creation but in his marriage, his attempted seduction of his mother-in-law and his desire not to succumb to the dumbing down of publishing and book buying and not reading that has become the reality of corporate buyouts of the publishing houses. His character laments that there are no readers any longer, that no-one has readers. I wonder if I had read a review of this sometime and it had sat in my head waiting to pop out as if I had thought it myself?
Jacobson’s character in the end makes a success of resurrecting his writing career, a second wave if you like, by embracing the very forms and attitudes he has poured scorn on throughout the preceding chapters. If you weren’t reading a Jacobson book and you didn’t know his constant unapologetic support for intellectual quality in fiction you may think he was thinking of selling out himself. But in the end it is obvious that the genius of the think subverts the journey’s end.
I’d recommend this for anyone, particularly if you are struggling with writing professionally, but only if you are mentally strong, otherwise you may have abandoned the idea of writing for publication and certainly for paid publication well before you get to the end. A brilliant book as is the norm from Jacobson.