By JULIE BOSMAN
Howard Jacobson won the Man Booker Prize, Britain’s most prestigious literary award, on Tuesday night for “The Finkler Question,” a comic novel about friendship, wisdom and anti-Semitism.
The author of 10 previous novels, Mr. Jacobson, who was born in Manchester, England, was on the long list for the Booker Prize twice before, for “Who’s Sorry Now?” in 2002 and “Kalooki Nights” in 2007.
He accepted the award to unusually enthusiastic and sustained applause at an awards ceremony in London.
“I’m speechless,” he told the audience. “Fortunately, I prepared one earlier. It’s dated 1983. That’s how long the wait’s been.”
The Booker is given each year to a novel by an author in Britain, Ireland or one of the Commonwealth nations. The prize comes with a check for £50,000, or about $80,000, and a practically guaranteed jump in book sales and publicity. “The Finkler Question” was published by Bloomsbury USA this week in the United States.
It was a small triumph for humor in fiction, an argument that Mr. Jacobson made in a nearly 3,700-word essay in The Guardian last Saturday.
“There is a fear of comedy in the novel today — when did you last see the word ‘funny’ on the jacket of a serious novel? — that no one who loves the form should contemplate with pleasure,” he wrote. “We have created a false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness, between the exhilaration that the great novels offer when they are at their funniest, and whatever else it is we now think we want from literature.”
The chairman of the judging panel, Andrew Motion, Britain’s former poet laureate, called “The Finkler Question” a “marvelous book: very funny, of course, but also very clever, very sad and very subtle.”