A dystopian novel set some time after "WHAT HAPPENED, IT HAPPENED," Howard Jacobson's J tells the tale of a man and a woman. But it is not a simple love story; it is the tale of a country where talking about the past is forbidden and where, for some reason, you must draw two fingers across your lips when saying a word starting with the letter J. J draws obvious comparisons to 1984 by George Orwell and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. However, the social commentary of Orwell and Huxley does not emerge in Jacobson's novel until the very end.
~*mild spoilers ahead~*
J becomes a Holocaust novel of sorts, as you put the pieces together about "WHAT HAPPENED." (The Washington Post calls "J" a "cerebral satire about anti-Semitism"). There are hints about it, like when one character writes in his journals in a chapter titled "Twitternacht" (directly harkens to "kristallnacht"):
.... Modern societies had spent too much time...rubbing the twin itches of recollection and penance. In the bad old days, "never forget" was a guiding maxim-- you couldn't move, I've heard tell, for obelisks and and mausoleums and other inordinately ugly monuments exhorting memory--but this led first to wholesale neuroticism and impotence and then, as was surely inevitable, to the great falling-out, if there was one. Rather than go on perpetuating the neurasthenic concept of victimization....the never-forgettors would have done better carving "I Forgive You" on their stones....
Most of the novel is not written in this straightforward way, although this is one of the key hints (around 30-ish pages in) onto "WHAT HAPPENED" that set the world the story takes place in into motion. J is told through the perspective of its many characters. There are no flashbacks; each character's narrative moves in a linear fashion. The main characters -- Ailinn Solomon and Kevern Cohen -- are brought together almost by fate. There's Esme Nussbaum, an employee of a company that monitors the public mood. There's Professor Zermasky, whose journal is excerpted above. There's Ailinn's grandmother's letters. The book is an intertwining mystery of different narratives that keeps you reading til its (depressing, I'll admit) end. Rating: ★★★★★