08 August 2019, The Tablet

Playing for laughs


 

Live a Little
HOWARD JACOBSON
JONATHAN CAPE, 288 PP, £18.99)
Tablet bookshop price £17.09 • tel 020 7799 4064

Howard Jacobson once told me off in front of 300 people for calling him a comic novelist. I didn’t mean any disrespect by it, or seek to imply his novels were inferior to the chuckle-free variety, or even that he fails to tackle serious subject matter. The most basic definition of comedy is that the ultimate direction of travel is towards the light rather than the dark. Mozart’s Figaro is no less a masterpiece for its joyful ebullience, and Dante’s Commedia isn’t exactly light reading. 

But that’s raising the bar high for a tale of late romance among north London Jewish nonagenarians. Jacobson might indignantly point out that the proximity of the Grim Reaper to his characters does not exactly make for merriment, and he’d be right. But the particular sparkle of Beryl Dusinbery and Shimi Carmelli lies in their willingness to keep playing right up to the last throw of the dice. 

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