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The Mighty Walzer

The Mighty Walzer

2.0 1
by Howard Jacobson

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Oliver Walzer is a natural at ping-pong. He can chop, flick, half-volley like a champion. At sex he is not a natural, but with tuition from Sheeny Waxman, his game improves. Unabashedly autobiographical, this is Howard Jacobson's masterpiece.

From the Hardcover edition.


Oliver Walzer is a natural at ping-pong. He can chop, flick, half-volley like a champion. At sex he is not a natural, but with tuition from Sheeny Waxman, his game improves. Unabashedly autobiographical, this is Howard Jacobson's masterpiece.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
First published in the U.K. in 1999, the stateside latest (after The Finkler Question) from Man Booker–winner Jacobson chronicles the mordantly funny (and highly autobiographical) coming-of-age of Oliver Walzer as he contends with his neurotic Jewish family in 1950s Manchester, England; struggles to find his way with the ladies; and, most crucially, develops into a Ping-Pong champion. At the heart of the novel is the intertwining of the sport and Oliver's burgeoning love life ("Even my erotic dreams had a ping-pong component"). Walzer is deeply anxious about his sexuality, creating elaborate collages combining his family's photo albums and pinups from lad magazines, but it's a trip to the Akiva social club that proves fateful for the awkward adolescent, as it's there where he meets the older boys of the local Ping-Pong team who lead him, for better or worse, to an improved Ping-Pong game and something of an understanding of women. Jacobson spares no painful or uncomfortable moments, and while the notion of a novel of Ping-Pong may not sound like the most enticing offer, Jacobson writes with such verve, and his sense of humor is so sharp, that he could turn a novel of basket weaving into a ripsnorter. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

“Poignant, moving, hilarious . . . laugh-out-loud funny . . . the sort of book that might change your life.” —Observer (UK)

“Jacobson is a great storyteller: phrases, anecdotes and atmosphere roll off the page with the ease and sublime, scary grace of drunken eels--he is unsurpassable.” —The Times (UK)

“This mature novel has the sustained exuberance and passion of his youthful writing . . . an achingly funny book . . . an amazing achievement . . . There are few novelists today who can imbue the trifles of life with such poetry.” —Independent (UK)

“Marvellous. Jacobson has not just written the first great novel about ping-pong. He has written one of the greatest sporting novels ever.” —Sunday Telegraph (UK)

“[Jacobson's] humour is unashamedly savage and his jokes as sharp as a switch-blade . . . comic vitriol worthy of Evelyn Waugh.” —Express on Sunday (UK)

Library Journal
This earlier title by Jacobson, the 2010 Booker Prize winner for The Finkler Question, is further proof that the author deserves his literary reputation. A funny and perceptive coming-of-age story, it follows Oliver Walzer, member of an extended Jewish family in 1950s Manchester, England. Surrounded by aunts and steeped in the culture brought over from eastern Europe, Oliver starts as a shy and observant youth who begins to discover himself and the world through his natural gift as a Ping-Pong player. As the years progress, Oliver and his mates also discover girls, and the novel follows his sexual awakening and maturing, as told from the perspective of a painfully self-conscious, perspicacious, and somewhat cynical teenager. Oliver moves beyond his local roots and attends Cambridge but later in life returns to Manchester for a visit. Memorable characters populate this novel, which is rife with so many Britishisms and Yiddishisms that a glossary might have been handy. VERDICT Readers of literary fiction should be acquainted with one of Jacobson's works, and Finkler may be the easiest choice. Beyond that, this new work is brilliant, funny, engaging, and strongly recommended.—Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta
Kirkus Reviews

An entertaining Jewish picaresque novel, following on Jacobson's Man Booker Prize–winningThe Finkler Question(2010).

This roman à clef is a Rothian romp, aGoodbye, Columbusacross the water in Manchester, where we find young Oliver Walzer desperately trying to do what young men try to do, namely satisfy their baser urges while grappling with whoever the hell they are. Oliver's not sure of any of this, and it doesn't help that he falls under the tutelage of a ping-pong patzer, and maybe evengoniff, with the resonant name of Sheeny Waxman, who has a gift for confusing things. The association is natural, and if Oliver doesn't quite experience the "slow awakening of genius" that the novel grandly announces in its very first paragraph, then he enjoys a lively sentimental education all the same. Oliver has a family tradition to uphold: His schlimazel of a pop was an ascended master of the yo-yo, after all, and now Oliver has to carve his own reputation into the gates of Birmingham with his own chosen instrument ("cometh the hour, cometh the toy"); Oliver also strives to rise above his origins, since, as he puts it, "all we'd been doing since the Middle Ages was growing beetroot and running away from Cossacks." Yet, hormone-driven as he is, Oliver has other aspirations, most of them things that inspire reverential circumlocution ("Mr Waxman drove her to Miles Platting, a considerable distance from her home, requested that she allow him to perform an indecent act upon her, and when she again refused he unceremoniously ordered her to get out of his car"). Will Oliver attain his several goals? That's the question that awaits the young man who thinks of himself as a mediocre being, a Kafkaesque bug, as, worst of all, "So-So Walzer."Jacobson is a sympathetic narrator, but not above poking fun at his characters and poking holes in their pretenses—and clearly having fun as he does so.

A delight from start to finish, and a note-perfect evocation of the gray 1950s.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.67(w) x 8.86(h) x 1.42(d)

Meet the Author

Howard Jacobson is a British novelist and journalist. He is known for writing comic novels that often revolve around the dilemmas of British Jewish characters. He is a Man Booker Prize winner.

Simon Bent is a British screenwriter and playwright, whose work includes the Joe Orton biographical play Prick Up Your Ears , the theatre adaptation of A Prayer for Owen Meany (2002) and Elling (2007).

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The Mighty Walzer 2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago