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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Kalooki Nights

Howard Jacobson

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase Kalooki Nights

Title: Kalooki Nights
Author: Howard Jacobson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2006
Length: 450 pages
Availability: Kalooki Nights - US
Kalooki Nights - UK
Kalooki Nights - Canada

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Had a go at it, but it was too much to handle. Made it about a third of the way through, and though the creative use language and the very dark humour impressed, there wasn't enough else to keep us interested, there wasn't enough 'story' to it (and too many anecdote-like stories) . We've enjoyed most of Jacobson's other books, but weren't up to this one.

Chances that we will review it:


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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2007 Gideon Lewis-Kraus
Entertainment Weekly B+ 6/4/2007 Clark Collis
Financial Times . 23/6/2006 Jonathan Derbyshire
The Guardian . 8/7/2006 Bryan Cheyette
New Statesman . 17/7/2006 Tim Adams
The NY Sun . 11/5/2007 Zoë Strimpel
The New Yorker . 30/4/2007 .
The Observer A 9/7/2006 Will Buckley
The Spectator . 1/7/2006 Olivia Glazebrook
Sunday Times . 25/6/2006 David Horspool
The Telegraph A+ 9/7/2006 Christopher Cleave
The Telegraph B 9/7/2006 Michael Moorcock
TLS . 7/7/2006 Marco Roth
The Washington Post . 29/7/2007 Jordana Horn

  Review Consensus:

  Impressed -- and think it is funny -- but many overwhelmed

  From the Reviews:
  • "Yes, Jacobson's good taste may be debatable, but not his ability to summon up rich, colorful characters, including a boyhood acquaintance of Glickman's whose parricidal ways drive the novel's plot, and the cartoonist's mother, whose obsession with the card game kalooki explains its title." - Clark Collis, Entertainment Weekly

  • "The novel is beautifully structured and Maxís first-person narration is the perfect vehicle for exploring a thought expressed in Jacobsonís previous book: that "in America the Jews had taken on a version of the national identity [and] had made the American cause their own", yet in England, they had struggled merely for the right to be left alone." - Jonathan Derbyshire, Financial Times

  • "Jacobson is at his best when he is putting the "rudery" back into English Jewry. (Ö) (A) gloriously pugnacious novel which, not unlike the fiction of Kingsley Amis in his pomp, wants to take on all-comers. Despite its welcome risk-taking and wholesale slaughter of any number of sacred cows, it finally reduces everyone and everything to the same "masochistic" drama. (Ö) One hand of Max engages in "self-murder", while the other lashes out at all and sundry. His one-man boxing match entertains and appals in equal measure." - Bryan Cheyette, The Guardian

  • "(T)he most brilliantly ambitious (and ambitiously brilliant) of his eight novels (Ö.) Jacobson manages to keep both of these story engines revving while never letting up on his affectionate, highly evocative detailing of the smaller family dramas that provide no end of light relief." - Tim Adams, New Statesman

  • "Ultimately, such intellectual discomfort seems more important to Mr. Jacobson than the details of the crime itself, and the book suffers for it. The exposé of the murder lacks conviction, its drastic perversity never quite squaring with Max's retelling of Manny's history. But taken amid the ambitious, splendid complexity of the whole, it would be hard not to forgive Mr Jacobson this single weakness." - Zoë Strimpel, The New York Sun

  • "Jacobson spins a loose yarn around Maxís inquiry into his old friendís crime, leaving plenty of opportunities for caustic insights and hilarious detours, as when the teen-aged Max" - The New Yorker

  • "It is likely to be the funniest book published this year. (Ö) It is Washinsky who will gas his parents, and it is a TV company, Lipsync Productions, that commissions Max to search for his childhood friend. This provides the spine of the novel, but along the way, everything and anything is thrown into the plot as Jacobson, in prose sharper and brighter than any of his contemporaries, worries over, struggles with and laughs at what it means to be Jewish." - Will Buckley, The Observer

  • "Kalooki Nights is very funny, which is a huge relief, because these arenít funny topics (the Holocaust, murder, the oppression of a religious minority) and every character has something serious to say about Jewishness on almost every page. It is a rich, dense book, and strangely overwhelming -- not so much like reading a novel as sharing a train carriage with its narrator. You have only just settled down in your seat when he starts talking, and he doesnít stop. Your heart sinks, you think he might bfe a bore, and you might be right. But donít panic, itís worth staying put. There is much to learn and a good deal to enjoy." - Olivia Glazebrook, The Spectator

  • "Kalooki Nights is a book to laugh at, learn from and argue with, but despite the profusion of characters and an overarching mystery -- why Manny killed his parents -- it seems something less as well as more than a novel. Partly, this is down to the repetition that Jacobson indulges in: the themes of separation, identity, punishment, guilt and responsibility are worried over again and again, often in similar phrases. But partly it is because Jacobson seems less interested in portraying convincing human beings when thereís a good intellectual scrap to be had. Kalooki Nights is a novel of ideas in which the second part of the description counts for twice as much as the first." - David Horspool, Sunday Times

  • "The result -- the raging, contentious, hilarious, holy, deicidal, heartbreaking Kalooki Nights -- is a novel that stands toe-to-toe with the greats. (Ö) A brilliant and combative humour is at the heart of this extraordinarily audacious look at Jewishness, in which the Holocaust looms monstrous. (Ö) Jacobson's every sentence is a ridgeline elegantly raised from ambiguous valleys so that our understanding as a reader, falling upon the crest, can run to the funny or to the serious side. This is the beauty of sentences so finely nuanced: Jacobson can be funny and serious in the same breath. And yet there is no mistaking the reverence of his intention, or the rage that animates him at the heart of this more-than-a-novel. The reader -- entertained, exhausted and ennobled -- will finish this colossal work of art in remembrance and sorrow." - Christopher Cleave,The Telegraph

  • "Yet I grew impatient to get back to the plot: to learn why Manny, a quiet, introspective, harmless kid, did his parents in. Another problem I had with this funny and often powerful book was that I was never really convinced Max had it in him to handle the tightly paced narrative -- crucial to being a good comic artist. Like other bright, entertaining columnists such as Will Self and Clive James, Jacobson is, on the evidence of this book, a brilliant anecdotalist but a lousy storyteller. (Ö) It's ultimately a lumpy, tasty and satisfying latke -- but I have to say a comic strip version might deliver something just a little bit crisper." - Michael Moorcock, The Telegraph

  • "Kalooki Nights is both a brave novel about kitschy stereotypes and an indulgent catalogue of them. To my American eyes and ears, Jacobson's Max comes across as an experiment in camp. (Ö) Max's hyperconsciousness of his Jewishness is not so different from the scholarship boy's consciousness of his class. With his mixture of sentimentality, self-deflating irony, and loyalty to a small group of neighbourhood friends, Max would not be out of place in a novel by Nick Hornby or Jonathan Coe. When he writes about love, Max sounds a bit like Tony Parsons." - Marco Roth, Times Literary Supplement

  • "The novel is a convoluted combination of family saga and semi-tepid murder mystery (.....) Surely, there is a middle ground between idolatry and mockery. But it is this ground that Kalooki Nights keeps holy, if only by allowing it to remain untouched." - Jordana Horn, The Washington Post

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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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception

       Much attention was paid to the fact that Jacobson seems to routinely get ignored for the major awards -- and that comic novels in general get overlooked by the Man Booker and the like. Many expected this book to be well in the Man Booker running in 2006 -- but it wasn't.
       There was also some uneasiness about the subject-matter -- or rather the approach to the subject-matter, specifically in the treatment of the Holocaust (one of the central plot-points is that one of the (Jewish) characters murders his parents -- by gassing them), though most seemed to find that Jacobson's forced comical approach was successful.
       Finally -- and as has become almost inevitable in reviews of the very English-Judaism-focussed Jacobson -- , there was also some soul-searching about how Jews (and Jewish writers) are seen in post-war England.

       As usual, Jacobson's book didn't receive much American attention (and it was, of course, mentioned how he has always received little American attention ...) -- though in a way it's surprising it received as much as it did: it sounds like it would be an even harder sell there.

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Kalooki Nights: 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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© 2007-2011 the complete review

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