Who's Sorry Now? Paperback – Apr 7 2003
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Howard Jacobson is widely acclaimed as a humorous writer. Whos Sorry Now? is exceedingly funny but for all the bubbling wit, word play and satirical gibes it is infused with darkness. If his last book, the semi-autobiographical The Mighty Walzer, was Philip Roths Portnoy's Complaint relocated to 1950s Manchester, then this is possibly Jacobson's American Pastoral.
Whos Sorry Now? centres on Marvin Kreitman, a middle-aged Jewish Lothario, a man with a "nostalgic affection for many of the old discredited categories of masculine swagger". He was once a promising young academic but somehow ended up following in the footsteps of his father--a curmudgeon who hawked purses at a street market in Balham. Now the owner of a thriving leather goods business, Kreitman has a wife and two grown-up children, an elegant house in south London and a string of mistresses. Each week he meets his old university friend Charlie Merriweather for a Chinese meal in Soho. Charlie is a big, puppy dog of a man, brutalised by his public schooling but seemingly (if a little soppily) devoted to his wife and family. The Merriweathers enjoy "nice sex" and write childrens books. To indulge in a vaguely pertinent culinary metaphor, Charlie is sweet to Marvins sour. However, on this particular day Charlie suggests that they should swap wives--so far so 70s sitcom. Before Marvin can persuade Charlie against the idea, Nyman, a muscle-toned cyclist, runs him down in the street. Nyman is the novels malevolent force. Following the crash, this apparent nobody, an enigmatic wannabe television star, weasels his way into their lives and triggers a series of unexpected couplings, leaving Kreitmans daughter to enquire at one point: "Whos doing what to whom this time?"
Jacobson examines sexual obsession and infidelity in ribald, if poignant detail. However, it is his exploration of the painful scars left by family life that make this book both riveting and, certainly at its end, disturbing. Although it is littered with wonderfully amusing barbs against the cult of personality, installation art and even backpacker yarn The Beach, there is probably more tragedy than comedy in this remarkable novel.--Travis Elborough --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“Jacobson’s humour is unashamedly savage and his jokes as sharp as a switch-blade…comic vitriol worthy of Evelyn Waugh.” -- Sunday Express
“There are few novelists today who can imbue the trifles of life with such poetry.” -- Independent
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Those with an inherently biased view that comic writing has to be lightweight and frivolous should read WSN and then reconsider. Such is the deceptive modesty and slyness of Jacobson's aim that before each laughter dies on your lips - usually after another of Marvin's or Charlie's pathetic antics - you begin to discern the taste of bile in your mouth. The Kreitmans and Merriweathers are or think they're good friends until the men agree on a spouse swapping experiment to cure one of them of boredom born of envy and fidelity. The contrasting lifestyles and social milieu of the couples soon find the experiment taking them to places they never imagined. Happiness and bliss from their new coupling soon dissipates, and here's when the plot takes a surprising turn. Jacobson's deftness and sureness of touch shines through in the spying sequence that ends on a deliciously jaw dropping note ! The novel winds down dispensing a general sense of poetic justice, though not everyone comes off safely. Some emerge with more than a scratch. The title's message is reserved deservedly for Marvin.
WSN isn't all about sex and infidelity. The relevance of the family as a social unit, class-based lifestyles and cultural snobbery all come under Jacobson's cleared-eyed scrutiny. Naturally, the verdict isn't encouraging.
WSN isn't funny ha-ha. It's a comic novel with a deep social conscience and that's a rarity.
Kreitman, the protagonist, remains trapped by his conflicted view of women, his desires, and his reputation, galvanized to inaction, unable to connect fully with either the people he cares about, or his moral precepts. Jacobson`s narrator observes and reports and often analyzes, but never really invites the reader to explore as the tale unfolds. We remain as disengaged as the group in the novel. As a porrtrait of contemporary marriage and sexuality it`s a bleak picture.