Live a Little: This is so good from Howard Jacobson

Book review: Jacobson’s characters are as vivacious and boisterous as his writing

Howard Jacobson’s words are always the perfect ones. Photograph: PA

Howard Jacobson’s words are always the perfect ones. Photograph: PA

Words keep sliding from Beryl Dusinbery’s memory. Or, she wonders, do they fly out of the bedroom window while she sleeps? She has lost track of how many sons she has and claims she doesn’t have enough fingers on which to count her dead husbands because she can’t remember them all, yet she remains a verbose and acerbic nonagenarian.

Former head of English at some of the best girls’ schools in the country, Beryl has an enduring love of words and becomes increasingly frustrated when she can’t summon them: “One minute she has a word, then she hasn’t. Where does it go? Rolled under the bed like the biscuits her day carer Euphoria brings her, balanced foolishly on the saucer of her tea cup?”

Beryl is belligerent and harsh towards both Euphoria and her Moldovan night carer Nastya (which she deliberately pronounces Nastier), while insisting that they stop referring to her as “Mrs Beryl” and demanding instead to be called Princess Schicklgruber. “Sometimes I fall just to give them something to do. Oops a daisy, I shout, sliding out of my chair.”

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