Howard Jacobson's J: A Novel and the Counterfactual Imagination

in European Judaism
Sue Vice University of Sheffield, UK

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This article analyses Howard Jacobson's 2014 novel J, which depicts the aftermath of an imagined genocide of the Jews in Britain, and explores its connections to other examples of British-set counterfactual Holocaust fiction. The representation of mass murder on British soil in Jacobson's novel is achieved despite its omission of such crucial words as ‘Jew’, making the task of identifying these events and their victims into one shared by the novel's protagonists and the reader. This article identifies the varied targets of J's satire, which include that of increasing British insularity and its basis in assumptions of moral superiority in relation to the commission of wartime atrocities in Europe. Yet the novel also critiques in more general terms those aspects of contemporary life's dependence on conformity-inducing technologies, to suggest that the figure of the Jew, and responses to the Jewish presence, offer a more vital alternative.

Contributor Notes

Sue Vice is Professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield, UK, where she teaches and researches contemporary literature, film and Holocaust studies. Her recent publications include Barry Hines: ‘Kes’, ‘Threads and Beyond (2017, with David Forrest) and Claude Lanzmann's ‘Shoah’ Outtakes: Holocaust Rescue and Resistance (2021).

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