Thursday, September 01, 2005

Booker Review: All For Love, Dan Jacobson

What kind of publisher allows a novel to go on sale with the feeble, Bryan Adams-evoking title All For Love? The same kind of publisher that allows said book to go on sale sporting a front cover like this:

I'm not one to throw around phrases like "appalling and hopelessly misguided", but that cover, and that title, are appalling and hopelessly misguided. Of course, one would be a fool to judge a book by its cover, or any other element of a publisher's marketing apparatus. Content is king. What a shame that the content of Dan Jacobson's All For Love turns out to be almost as lacklustre as its packaging.

All For Love is a historical novel with a distinctly postmodern bent. It reads like a strange kind of non-fiction, the narrator very much to the fore, discussing character's motives, offering opinions, even going so far as to provide footnotes for sources. The story concerns the relationship between a minor Hapsburg princess and an unmoneyed hussar in the late-nineteenth century. It is told with detached irony, the narrator knowing, even cynical. At first I found it all rather interesting, but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much point to Jacobson's intellectual posturing. Doubtless he is making a sly comment about history writing, historical fiction, even historical knowledge itself. And that's all fine and good, but smart-arse wankery does not a good novel make.

The main problem is with Jacobson's choice of subject. His protagonists are dull and unappealing, their illicit affair about as erotic as waking up next to Clive James. With a cast of scheming bureaucrats, jealous princes and rabid anti-semites, the story should tell itself. Jacobson, however, likes to do the telling, plumping always for the least interesting aspects of the tale. For example, there are about fifty pages in the middle somewhere that are entirely concerned with the lovers' financial imbroglios, related by Jacobson with all the vim of a pedantic tax accountant working his way along a paper trail. It was at this point I began to wish I was reading something, anything, else. Even Marlon Brando's pirate novel sounds like more fun than All For Love.


Eight down, nine to go. Here's my rankings so far:

On the shortlist: James Meek

Strong contenders: Ali Smith, Sebastian Barry

Nice try: John Banville, Marina Lewycka, Tash Aw

Landfill: Harry Thompson, Dan Jacobson


Jo said...

Tim, are you reading a book a day?! This is madness!

Posh Spice could learn a thing or two from you.

Tim said...

It's these vitamins I'm taking. I've become super-productive. I only wish I got paid for it.