In a stunning follow-up to his much-heralded masterpiece, Kalooki Nights, acclaimed author Howard Jacobson has turned his mordant and uncanny sights on Felix Quinn, a rare-book dealer living in London, whose wife Marisa is unfaithful to him.
All husbands, Felix maintains, secretly want their wives to be unfaithful to them. Felix hasn't always thought this way. From the moment of his first boyhood rejection, surviving the shattering effects of love and jealousy had been the study of his life. But while he is honeymooning with Marisa in Florida an event occurs that changes everything. In a moment, he goes from dreading the thought of someone else's hands on the woman he loves to thinking about nothing else. Enter Marius into Marisa's affections. And now Felix must wonder if he really is a happy man.
The Act of Love is a haunting novel of love and jealousy, with stylish prose that crackles and razor-sharp dialogue, praised by the London Times as "darkly transgressive, as savage in its brilliance, as anything Jacobson has written." It is a startlingly perceptive, subtle portrait of a marriage and an excruciatingly honest, provocative exploration of sexual obsession.
In his naughtily erudite 10th novel, British author Jacobson (Kalooki Nights) explores the nature of the erotic with a wicked twist. Narrator Felix Quinn, a fusty antiquarian bookseller in contemporary London, wants to cuckold himself in order to "save his marriage" and give himself the freedom to be jealous. The unwitting but willing participant in Felix's scheme, Marius, is a libertine without scruples: he first appears in the tale some years previously, letching after two underage girls while attending the funeral of a man whose wife he had seduced. As for Felix's wife, Marisa, she embraces the infidelity foisted on her with gusto, relishing her thrice-weekly assignations and, after much persuasion, titillating her curious husband with details of their intimacies. Though Felix's narration is disconcertingly mannered, he's remarkably honest and blisteringly funny, while Jacobson's prose is sharp as ever, loaded with spiky dialogue and wonderfully arch observations. (Mar.)
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Simon & Schuster
March 15, 2009
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Excerpt from The Act of Love by Howard Jacobson
I first sighted Marius, long before I had any inkling Id have use for himor he for me, come to thatat a country churchyard funeral in Shropshire. One of those heaving-Wrekin mornings the poet Housman made famousrain streaming on stone and hillock, the gale plying the saplings double, a sunken, sodden, better to be dead than alive in morning. It didnt matter to me, I was from somewhere else. I could slip on galoshes before I left my hotel, put up an umbrella, endure what had to be endured, and then be gone. But others at the graveside chose to live in this hope-forsaken place. Dont ask me why. To assist in their own premature interment, is my guess. To be done with life before it could be done with them.Such a lust for pain there is out there. Such apocalyptic impatience. I dont just mean in Shropshire, though Shropshire might have more than its fair share of it, I mean everywhere. Bring on the dirty bomb, we cry, and publish instructions for its manufacture on the Internet. Blow winds and crack your cheeks: we scorch the earth, pitch our tent at the foot of a melting iceberg or disturbed volcano, sunbathe in the path of a tsunami. We cant wait for it to be over. The masochists we are!And all the while we have the wherewithal to suffer exquisitely and still live, if we only knew where to look. In our own beds, for example. In the beloved person lying next to us.Love hard enough and you have access to all the pain youll ever want.Not a thought I articulated at the time, I have to say, not having met, not having married, not having lost my heart and mind to the woman who would be my torturer. Marisa came later. But in the vegetative dark that preceded her, I never doubted that my skin was thinning in preparation for someone. Easy to be wise after the event and see Marisa as the fulfillment of all my longings, the one Id been keeping myself for; but of course I didnt fall in love only provisionally before I met her. Each time I lost my heart and mind, I believed I had lost them for good. Yet no sooner did I regain my balance than I knew that the woman who would finish me off completelymake me hers as I had never so far been anybodys, a man possessed in all senses of the wordwas still out there, waiting for her consummation as I was waiting for mine. Hence, I suppose, my interest in Marius, before I apprehended the part he would play in that consummation. I must have seen in him the pornographic complement to my as yet incompletely formed desires.It was impossible to tell from his demeanor at the funeral whether he was one of the principal mourners. He looked sulkily aggrieved, scarfed up and inky cloaked like Hamlet, but somehow, though he gave conspicuous support to the widowa woman I didnt know, but to whom there clung a sort of shameful consciousness of ancient scandal, like a fallen woman in a Victorian novelI didnt think he was the dead mans son. His distress, assuming it to have been distress, was of a different order. If I had to nail it in a word, Id say it was begrudgingas though he believed the mourners were weeping for the wrong person. Some men attend a funeral jealously, wishing to appropriate it for themselves, and Marius struck me as such a man.Id known and done a spot of business with the deceased. He had been a professor of literature with a large library. I had traveled up from London to value it. Nothing came of our negotiations. The library was ill cared for and crumbled into dust before I could come up with a figure. A fortuitous event in its own way, since the professor did not really want to part with his books, whatever their condition. He was a sweet man, out of time and place, who expostulated against lifes cruelties in a squeak, like a mouse. One of lifes, now one of deaths, disappointees. But I hadnt known him so well that I could move among his family and friends and ask them who the Black Prince was. As for striking up an acquaintance with him directly, that was out of the question.