The return of Literary Leicester offered an exciting line-up of well-known authors, but, for me, none more so than Howard Jacobson.
To date, he has published sixteen novels, been nominated for the Booker Prize on no less than four occasions, twice making the short-list, and winning the prize in 2010 for The Finkler Question. Howard has twice won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for his novels The Mighty Walzer and Zoo Time; and his 2014 novel, J was also short-listed for the Goldsmiths Prize. Along the way, Jacobson has also published six works of non-fiction, his latest being Mother’s Boy, the memoir that he was in Leicester to talk about.
This latest book is something of a departure for him. Talking on the night to Professor and author David Brauner, Jacobson told those in attendance that the origin of his memoir was a collection of reminisces of bad things that he had done throughout his life - to have, as Jacobson said, “An honest conversation with myself, a moral accounting.”
Mother’s Boy: A Writer’s Beginnings is, among many things, a water-damaged love letter to both his parents and the early literary influences of F. R. Leavis, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, George Eliot and D. H. Lawrence; influences that both inspired and haunted him for a long time. Indeed, though harbouring ambitions to become a novelist from a young age, Jacobson was forty-years-old before his first novel, Coming from Behind, was published in 1983. His new memoir is a fascinating re-telling of the upbringing and circumstances that led to his breakthrough.
On the night, Jacobson talked of the many reasons for not writing. His own name, Jacobson was just one - the reason being that he could not envisage his name down the spine of a book, sitting on a shelf alongside those of Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As he told David, “I was a ridiculous mess of self-doubt.”
Though it is a memoir for all, it is an especially poignant one for writers. By Jacobson’s own admission, he spent a large part of his youth not knowing who he was. And if anyone is questioning the reasons to write fiction in the first place, to find out who you are is surely as good an answer as any. It was only by writing as Howard Jacobson, and not as George Eliot or D. H. Lawrence, that he finally became the thing that had long eluded him: a novelist.
Lee Wright is currently writing a novel as part of a PhD at the University of Leicester, where he also studied on the MA in Creative Writing. His short stories and poetry have been published with Burning House Press, Fairlight Books and epoque press.