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Howard Jacobson - Longlist author interview

Howard Jacobson - Longlist author interview

We talk to Man Booker Prize winning author, Howard Jacobson, about making the longlist for a fourth time with J

What has it been like to be longlisted?

This is my fourth time in the last twelve years so you might think I'd be blasé about it by now, but I'm not at all.  It's still a cause of deep satisfaction to be singled out in this way (to be thirteenthed out, anyway), by judges who are reading intently, and who know what else has been written over the year.  Because J has not yet been published, this is the first response to it outside family, publishers and agent, so it's marvellous that it should be so positive.  No novelist is ever truly confident: it's in our natures to need approval.  And because a novel is a sort of conversation, it matters that someone is listening and wanting to talk back.  To be longlisted is to feel that the conversation has begun in earnest.

What are you working on next?

I've been commissioned by the Hogarth Press to contribute to their Shakespeare project and 'retell' a play.  I'm 'doing' The Merchant of Venice.  It's tough.

What are you reading at the moment?

Reading and the Reader by Philip Davis.  A terrific book on a subject dear to my heart - the importance of reading seriously.

What is your favourite Man Booker-winning novel?

Disgrace by J M Coetzee

Why, when so many of your novels have been set in the present or an immediate past informed by your own experience, have you decided to set J in the future, does it offer a different kind of freedom?

Sometimes you feel you have done enough of what you do, even if it has served you well.  I embarked on J, not knowing where it was going to lead me, but looking to be free of the voice-driven narrative of my previous novels, free of the comedy (however serious), free of the man stuff (I have just learnt that the audiobook will be primarily narrated by a woman), and free of the intensity of now. Writing about the future can be a powerful way of describing the present, engaging the reader in fraught events for which he might be responsible.  The future, after all, is our fault.  But I have revelled, too, in the flexibility that writing about the future brings.  Suddenly I am not beholden to the 'reality' of what I know.  Murders can be committed, unowned memories can float in and out, and the oddest passions can flower with unbearable poignancy....