First Impressions: Howard Jacobson
Novelist and broadcaster HOWARD JACOBSON is often described as the ‘Jewish Jane Austen’. His bestselling novels include The Finkler Question which won the Man Booker Prize in 2010. His latest, Zoo Time, is out next week. He lives with his wife, Jenny
What are you working on at the moment?
I've got a new novel coming out, so all my concentration is on thinking about the things I'm going to be saying. I hope it will make you laugh. I'm also working on another novel, but it's bad luck to talk about that.
When were you at your happiest?
Now. I am happy, in love and in marriage. I am the happiest I have been for the last five or six years. I also feel that my writing has never been better, or better understood. Winning the Man Booker Prize contributes somewhat, too.
What is your greatest fear?
Anything happening to my wife.
What is your earliest memory?
Being dressed up in a little soldier suit that my Dad made me. I was aged three, and dancing for my mother, her mother and her sister. So in short my earliest memory is of entertaining three women. And I've been trying to do that ever since.
Who has been your greatest influence?
My mother and father, because they were so very, very different, my mother was introverted, studious, quiet and a little bit shy, and my father was the complete opposite; he was a showman – they adored each other
What do you most dislike about yourself?
The shy or the noisy part – whichever is in the ascendancy.
What is your most treasured possession?
I'm at the age now where a lot of people die around you, and there are lots of things associated with them. I have an old pair of spectacles that my father used to wear. A grotty old pair of spectacles in the cheapest possible case, but they remind me of him.
What trait do you most deplore in others?
A lack of seriousness coupled with a lack of humour.
Do you have a fantasy address?
It used to be a big house on Sydney harbour. But now I like my life so much that I'm living it.
What do you most dislike about your appearance?
I'd like to be taller. I always think I'm 5ft 11½in, but the last time I was measured I was struggling at 5ft 9in.
What is your all time favourite book?
It's a toss-up between Little Dorrit and Anna Karenina.
What is your favourite film?
Carnal Knowledge, by Mike Nichols. It's about sex – a hard-nosed look at the lies people tell themselves. It's very, very good on the sanctimoniousness of sex.
Your favourite record or piece of music?
Don Giovanni. Everything's about love, you'll notice, that's all I seem to think about.
Your favourite meal?
Rogan Josh. I do make a rather good one, it takes me about a week – I gather all the ingredients and they have to be fresh. Or one made in a Manchester Indian restaurant. It has the best run of Indian restaurants anywhere. India might be good, too, but I doubt whether you'd beat Manchester.
Who would you most like to come to dinner?
Caruso and Dame Janet Baker to sing to me while I eat.
Which historical character do you most admire?
I don't do history at all, I only do literary people.
What is the nastiest thing anyone has ever said to you?
Do you believe in aliens?
No. The most alien thing I've ever encountered is that question.
What is your secret vice?
My secret vice as I enter a period of serious age is that I haven't got one. That's a shaming vice. My vice is that I'm virtuous.
Do you write thank-you notes?
No, but my wife does.
Which phrase do you most overuse?
I always astonish myself with 'God save us', and I say it when I leave a party, as though something absolutely appalling has happened and it probably hasn't.
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
A card that would guarantee me a suite in any 5-star hotel in the world. I'm a luxury man.
What would you like your epitaph to say?
To paraphrase Macbeth: 'Nothing in his life became him like the living of it'.
Zoo Time is on sale from 7 September (Bloomsbury Publishing, £18.99).
Daily tip from the lady archive
"It is not always she who appears most kindly in her interest who is the safe sharer of sacred (maybe sorrowful) secrets! Charming manners do not always connote sincerity of heart!”The Lady. In Confidence. 4th April, 1918