The Mediocre Growth of a Grandiose Simpleton: An Analysis of Howard Jackobson’s The Mighty Walzer.
The Mighty Walzer is the story of a boy who dreams of winning fame, fortune and the adoration of beautiful women, as a table tennis player. He wants to make his life grandiose like all of us. However, it is a pity that he fails. Oliver, the protagonist is not disheartened. Even though he has not struck his fortune, life gives him other riches- the riches of life and growing up itself. Thus, the novel can be seen as the celebration of the trivial processes of growing up. The more we read, the more we realise that the mediocre lives presented in the novel are grandiose in their own ways. Thus, the author is examining the grandiosities of our mediocre lives. The novel is the life story of each and every one of us. It is the celebration of the simple life of a commoner with its trivialities and mediocrities. However, there is an exuberant grandiosity in this existence. It is this grandiose process of life which is emphasised in this study.
Set in the1950s England, The Mighty Walzer is semi-autobiographical. Howard Jacobson in the veil of the character Oliver,Walzer depicts his own self as a confused Jewish boy growing up in Manchester. When it comes to home, nothing is closer to heart than the childhood memories. Jacobson’s the Mighty Walzer is indeed a childhood memoir. The novel is a bildungs roman narrative. It is absolutely hilarious, comic and sublime. It has the grace and charm of a childhood dream. Jacobson’s wit was lauded from all quarters, when the novel was first published. Sunday Times observes: “Jacobson writes with agility that gives pleasure akin to humour even when it isn’t actually funny. It is the sheer charm of his intelligence that feels like wit.” The Independent in its review quotes: “This mature novel has the sustained exuberance and passion of his youthful writing but within an epic…. An achingly funny book….An amazing achievement….There is few novelists today who can imbue the trifles of life with such poetry.”
Jacobson wrote this rollicking, loose limbed, semi-autobiographical novel in Australia at the end of 90s, having finally put enough distance between events to revisit the humiliation. He puts before us a number of childhood milieus in a straight forward and grandiose fashion. There is no holding back when it comes to a number of intimate sexual and mental give and takes. It is these truthful ejaculations that make the novel hilarious. One can really denominate the novel in Mario Vargas Illosa’s terms as a piece of ‘mental masturbation.’Howard Jacobson amuses his readers in The Mighty Walzer. The characters and milieus in the novel are regular, common and mediocre. We can connect ourselves with the various characters and their eccentricities. The more we go into the novel, the more we realize that the desires, anxieties, failures, successes, sufferings and frailties of the characters are in fact the mirror reflections of our own milieus. Thus, when we look at with disdain the ‘jacking off’ –of Oliver, Sheeney’s women hunting, Sabine’s promiscuity, Aunt Fay’s mid 30’s love affair etc., we are pitying our own repressed desires and inhibitions. Such is the psychological depth with which each of the characters are handled.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Sagar Simon Francis, Dr. Cynthia Catherine Michael
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