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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Making of Henry

Howard Jacobson

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To purchase The Making of Henry

Title: The Making of Henry
Author: Howard Jacobson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2004
Length: 340 pages
Availability: The Making of Henry - US
The Making of Henry - UK
The Making of Henry - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, entertaining

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian A 5/6/2004 Alfred Hickling
The Guardian . 4/6/2005 Nicholas Lezard
The Independent A+ 28/5/2004 Michael Bywater
Independent on Sunday . 20/6/2004 James Urquhart
New Statesman . 14/6/2004 Peter Bradshaw
The Observer A 23/5/2004 Stephanie Merritt
Scotland on Sunday A 30/5/2004 Andrew Crumey
The Spectator . 5/6/2004 Sandra Howard
The Telegraph . 30/5/2004 Gerald Jacobs
The Telegraph . 30/5/2004 Will Cohu
TLS . 11/6/2004 Stephen Abell

  Review Consensus:

  Most very impressed

  From the Reviews:
  • "But you don't read Jacobson for action: it's self-loathing which drives the book along, plus all the pleasure of the mordant exactitude with which he describes it." - Alfred Hickling, The Guardian

  • "So why am I recommending this book for your shelves ? Because it's funny, that's why. (...) There has to be room in the library for books about men who think of nothing but sex and (good) books, and Jacobson is their laureate." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "As always, it's powerful, bang to rights, monstrously funny. (...) You don't read Jacobson to find out what happens next. You read him to find out what's said next. His disputatious truculence is not peevish but rabbinical, Talmudic, necessary. His narrative asides are central and crucial." - Michael Bywater, The Independent

  • "There are many striking tales tucked into the novel but, without depth of insight into relationships, his subject remains a miniature, a small canvas framing the minor details and unshocking surprises of an incidental life." - James Urquhart, Independent on Sunday

  • "(T)he writing, as always with Jacobson, is fluent and seductive and funny. The narrative effortlessly straddles past and present, and the descriptions of Izzi Nagel conducting his improbable amour in a hotel, or entrancing a Liverpool thieves' kitchen with his wildly unsafe pyrotechnic act, are hilarious and unexpectedly moving." - Peter Bradshaw, New Statesman

  • "Jacobson is almost the only living writer who could make 340 pages spent inside the psyche of a gruff, solipsistic old man consumed by his own mortality and endlessly picking over his own failures not just entertaining but often gloriously, edifyingly funny." - Stephanie Merritt, The Observer

  • "I fully expected to hate The Making Of Henry, but by the second or third page I was being won over. By page 16 I was laughing out loud -- and I kept laughing until the end of this warm, tender and hilarious novel. Forget the theorising -- Jacobson is screamingly funny." - Andrew Crumey, Scotland on Sunday

  • "The writing, while far too clever to descend into farce, is stuffed with brilliant hilarity and affectionate, suffer-thy-family Jewishness." - Sandra Howard, The Spectator

  • "In Henry, Jacobson has created a protagonist for whom the central male characters in his earlier novels now seem like prototypes. This is a beautifully rounded portrait of a man gazing into the prism of the past in order to facilitate the future. Coloured by humour that is both penetrating and playful, it also conveys varying shades of humiliation and resignation." - Gerald Jacobs, The Telegraph

  • "Jacobson's writing is as luscious and funny as ever and its inner personalities just as competitive. The academic and the journalist are not homogenous in his writing, with its curdled, obsessive traits. You're never far from comic brilliance, just as you feel a kind of fear of being cornered by him." - Will Cohu, The Telegraph

  • "The Making Of Henry, in fact, is continually -- if not comically -- unbalanced by overstatement for comic effect." - Stephen Abell, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Making of Henry is the story of Henry Nagel. When the novel begins, Henry has already been made -- it would seem. He's old, ready to be officially labelled a 'senior', and it wouldn't seem there's that much left. As it turns out, there wasn't that much before, either:

     Does Henry feel, then, that his has been a disappointing life ? No. Henry feels his has not been a life.
       The novel does describe some of what made Henry up to this point: childhood experiences (and traumas), an uninspiring teachers-life (at the Penine Way College of Rural Technology, which, over the years, is transformed into a real (if hardly bona fide) university, where he suffers his "academic fall from nowhere to somewhere even lower"). Dad was a fire-eater, mom discovered her talent for cake decorating late in life (never managing to actually bake a decent cake, but able to do a remarkable job decorating them), and if they weren't entirely at fault in making Henry into what he became, they certainly played some role. But Henry was a near-hopeless case anyway. As his father tells him:
     No, Henry, I didn't want to start a blaze in your heart. I knew my limits. No one was ever able to set you alight.
     Too damp, you think ?
     Too frightened.
       So it hasn't gone too great for Henry up to this point. But his life has changed: he's inherited -- under mysterious circumstances -- a fancy London apartment, in NW8. Among the first things that happens there is that his ancient neighbour dies, bringing her stepson, Lachlan Louis Stevenson, into Henry's life. And Lachlan's dog, Angus.
       Henry's taste in women -- "Older women, invariably attached. Invariably having to go home with another man. Borrowed older women." -- also poses something of a problem. As he recognises: "The thing about older women once you've reached Henry's age is that there aren't any." So he has to rethink that, and conveniently finds himself attracted to Moira Aultback -- quite a bit younger than him, but at least conveniently still married.
       The Making of Henry is, fairly simply, about these new characters -- Moira and Lachlan and Angus -- that have come into Henry's life, and the vestiges of the old: his father, his mother, and, significantly, an old friend he's been out of touch with for decades, Osmond 'Hovis' Belkin. And it's these relationships -- and the abrupt end to several of them -- that might afford Henry a new opportunity, a new life.
       Not much happens in the novel, but Jacobson's light touch makes for an engaging read. Henry isn't the most sympathetic character, but he does come into his own: Jacobson builds him up fairly nicely, filling in background from his childhood and university days to contrast with the present-day man, making for a rich character portrait.
       The comic elements -- and there are some hilarious bits -- nicely balance the story, preventing it from getting too weighed down in melancholy. Much of the novel revolves around Henry coming to terms with his parents; the mystery of the apartment (he does not know -- and is not supposed to ask -- who bequeathed it to him) and other clues eventually help him do that. And in Moira he seems to have found a woman who, for once, he'd like to see attached solely to him.
       Well-written, The Making of Henry is a solid, thoughtful read.

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The Making of Henry: Reviews: Howard Jacobson: Other books by Howard Jacobson under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       British author Howard Jacobson was born in 1942.

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© 2004-2011 the complete review

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