Howard Jacobson, author of the Man Booker Prize-winning The Finkler Question, again caught the eye of the Man Booker selection committee, which this year shortlisted J, a dystopian novel that imagines a futuristic Britain radically altered by a cataclysmic event referred to cryptically as WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED.

The government and a willing populace have created a repressive society where the past is occluded, lineages are obscured and certain forms of music and art are shielded from memory. The novel follows Kevern Cohen and Ailinn Solomons as they try to form a relationship. Not only must they endure the dramas typical to any union of lovers but they've been robbed of the scaffolding of history; they lack the pop-culture touchstones to reference how those in love feel or behave. While it makes for a raw and touching courtship, their lives are further complicated by the Orwellian specter of local villagers watching their every move and reporting them to unseen overseers.

Jacobson gradually reveals WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. The survivors are both vague about the situation (from fear) and somewhat ill-informed about the true order of events, so this fragmented and incomplete understanding of the facts adds a disorienting feel to J. Kevern and Ailinn are protagonists worth rooting for, and J delivers a gut punch of a plot twist that rests somewhere between hope and devastation. This is a major novel, a rare work that makes readers think as much as feel--and the feelings that it invokes are uneasy ones. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

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