I have never really liked Howard Jacobson as a journalist or pundit, but I always quite like his books: in an undemanding comic way (which is very high praise). I have not read many, though one of my strongest geographical prejudices is straight of of Redback which I read when I was 17. In it the lead comes from Warrington, and describes the place as being equidistant between Manchester and Liverpool and all the worst attributes of both. Not knowing Liverpool or Manchester should have rendered this description meaningless to me. Nevertheless the context seemed to get across all that is self-critical about our home towns. They are never as good as the nearest big town, they are always second best. As a Borehamwood boy I had London-envy and Elstree hatred, so loved this piece of writing.

The youthful scenes are what remain of Redback in my head. The Mighty Walzer, a Mancunian ping-pong coming of age comedy, sticks resolutely to this period. Which initially was strange as it seemed that this was to be the story of a life. Instead the book suggests that life is over by eighteen: the period up to this age getting three hundred pages whilst after gets eighty (mainly reminiscing). It shows the growth of a shy boy into a demon table-tennis player and sexual predator: whilst also telling the story of post-war Jews in Manchester. It almost seems entirely closed to the non-Jewish audience, except it stems from the grand tradition of Jewish comic literature that invites you in to laugh and sympathise. And here are all the stereotypes, the tiny matrichal grandmother, the strong women, the sexually perverse son. But talking stereotypes, I have never seen this story, this kind of comic unravelling, set in the UK. Its an American stereotype, and so while many of the tropes are familiar, the setting (and the ping-pong) isn’t. So perhaps it was a story I could have constructed in my head, two parts Woody Allen, one part Coronation Street. But its better that a decent writer did it for me.