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The month in books

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From hate to guarded hope

The Dictator’s Learning Curve

There’s a beginning-of-term feeling about September’s books. After the summer’s featherweight holiday reads, it is back to serious study of the human condition in all its infinite variety, beginning with Howard Jacobson’s choleric comedy about love, longing and literature.

I once saw a reader reduce Jacobson to silence (a considerable feat) at a summer literary festival. A character in his most recent novel, she complained, was dislikeable. Patiently, Jacobson explained that his character was a construct. It was necessary for him to be flawed—indeed the novel hinged on his failings. In vain. His reader continued to insist that the book had been ruined for her because she couldn’t identify with its hero.

It is not hard to imagine that this reader, or someone like her, inspired the bravura opening of Jacobson’s latest fiction, Zoo Time (Bloomsbury, £18.99). His hero, novelist Guy Ableman, travels to Chipping Norton

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Jane Shilling
Jane Shilling is author of the memoir “The Stranger in the Mirror” (Vintage) 

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