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Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

Howard Jacobson's funny, revealing and tender memoir of his path to becoming a writer.

It's my theory that only the unhappy, the uncomfortable, the gauche, the badly put together aspire to make art. Why would you seek to reshape the world unless you were ill-at-ease in it? And I came out of the womb in every sense the wrong way round.

In Mother's Boy, Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson reveals how he became a writer. It is an exploration of belonging and not-belonging, of being an insider and outsider, both English and Jewish.

Jacobson was 40 when his first novel was published. In Mother's Boy, he traces the life that brought him there. Born to a working-class family in 1940s Manchester, the great-grandson of Lithuanian and Russian immigrants, Jacobson was raised by his mother, grandmother and Aunt Joyce. His father was a regimental tailor, as well as an upholsterer, a market-stall holder, a taxi driver, a balloonist and a magician.

Grappling always with his family's history and his Jewish identity, Jacobson takes us from the growing pains of childhood to studying at Cambridge under F.R. Leavis, and landing in Sydney as a maverick young professor on campus. After his first marriage and the birth of his son, he lived in places as disparate as London, Wolverhampton, Boscastle and Melbourne and worked many different jobs to make ends meet, from selling handbags on a market stall, to teaching English in schools, universities and sometimes football stadiums, and even helping to run an Australian-inspired restaurant in the middle of Cornwall.

Full of Jacobson's trademark humour and infused with bittersweet memories of his parents, this is the story of a writer's beginnings - as well as the twists and turns that life takes - and of learning to understand who you are before you can become the writer you were meant to be.

©2022 Howard Jacobson (P)2022 Penguin Audio

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The agony without the ecstasy


This memoir is abidingly interesting and excellently written. It is agonised, anguished and shot through with his maladjustment (essential for a writer according to Jacobson), tortured with self doubt (he was he says even a ‘failed baby’), loaded with both gargantuan ambition, and crippling shame…. As he says he came out ‘the wrong way round which includes being Jewish’ the latter being at the radiating heart of the memoir.
All these maudlin qualities are from uplifting but the whole memoir is incandescent with inner turmoil and incident. The relationship with his aggressive father, the conjuror, market stall holder, mender of everything., speaker of a superb mix of dialects is intensely vivid; his working-to-the-bone mother is not only the source of Jacobson’s love of literature and words but of real mother love, and her own thwarted desires of her youth to be a writer are heart-breaking.
There is tremendous wit in words and scenario throughout. The terrible Paris honeymoon is grotesquely comic in its awfulness and his father’s attempts to levitate a blow-up doll on one of his conjuring shows is magnificent. His analysis of what goes wrong in his life (lots of it) is self-deprecating and brutally honest and I warmed to him when he apologised to his first wife. Through all his time at Cambridge under the indelible influence of F.R.Leavis, through teaching and not teaching in places he hated (or loved and had to leave) burned the unconquerable but seemingly never to be fulfilled urge to write a novel. It’s like some terrible gnawing tumour he has to expel from his very being. (Finally Jacobson won the Booker and has written 16 novels but that’s outside this memoir’s remit).
It’s an unusually vivid recreation of an inner life. I loved his language and his literary references (he IS partly Pip from Great Expectations) and analyses. Jacobson is also a very good reader of his own work.

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Benefits from being narrated by the author

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this audiobook.
As a would be writer, Jew and grammar school boy I empathised with Jacobson.
I felt the whole thing benefitted by being read by the author. Jacobson's irony, occasional sarcasm and world-weariness comes through clearly. His biggest criticism is often towards himself. He does not hold back in his opinions. He is certainly not a great fan of Wolverhampton!
This is a well written book that I would recommend.

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A wonderfully honest and entertaining memoir

I loved this book. Such honesty- that’s rarely seen in these memoirs. You love and dislike him just as he does himself, as he goes through the phases of his life. At the end there is a sense he is reconciled to the ambivalent feelings he experiences about himself, his parents, his significant others and his capability to write. I feel I’ll return to this and may even buy the book. He reads it well - it’s his story and he’s telling it for us the way he intended. Full marks from me!

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Beautifully written and beautifully read

Exquisite stuff. I think it became extra-special because of the narrator. Unlike most authors, Howard Jacobson is a performer here - no-one else could have done this justice. I loved it. A witty literary hug....

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Entertaining listen.

Very much enjoyed the content and narration by the author. Great writing, both humorous and affecting. Prompted me to explore the authors novels.

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Utterly brilliant

This is beautifully read and utterly humbling in the quality of its writing.
I wish it would go and on…
And now, having read no other HJ in my life I will purchase and read more of his work.