...a thoroughly enjoyable read. For a literature snob and a language obsessive...there is a lot to feast on; but for someone looking for an emotionally honest storyline, the book also delivers. Live a Little is about growing old, but it’s also about gender, race, love and politics, penned in a playful, genuine, sometimes borderline offensive way, that is at times reminiscent of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth or On Beauty ... I found myself caring deeply for the characters, and even shedding a tear on two separate occasions. The book also comes to a surprisingly tender conclusion and delivers some extremely astute home truths. That Jacobson manages all of this while populating his novel with ninety-plus-year-olds feels impressive, though his point seems to be that it shouldn’t be. I found myself convinced.
Jacobson, now 76, is not one to let the catastrophe of old age get in the way of a good laugh, or a surprisingly tender love story ... he has found his comic voice again with a shrewdly observed jeu d’esprit about creeping senectitude and blossoming romance ... Jacobson, who impishly calls himself 'the Jewish Jane Austen', believes nothing is more erotic than good conversation. In Live a Little, it is the highest compliment you can give, and Beryl and Shimi’s exchanges give their courtship a beautiful palpability, melting away years of accumulated rancour ... Live a Little has its flaws. It sags in the middle, only picking up once our protagonists meet. Beryl’s migrant carers — a Ugandan and a Moldovan — are lazy stereotypes, and her racist jibes land awkwardly. As ever, Jacobson’s comedy relies on hyperbole. Countless scenarios and characters are conjured for the sake of a joke. However, there is a truth and beauty to the connection between Beryl and Shimi. The book is alive. It pulses with warmth and intelligence, and, unusually for a novel about old age, it has a lot of style.
...[a] wonderful novel ... [Beryl and Shimi] are perfect Jacobson heroes. They allow him to display all his virtuoso way with words, while indulging that deep understanding of the rival cultural memory of the last century carried in the heads of Shimi...and the war widow Beryl. No other novelist writing in Britain could dramatise this nonagenarian love story with greater verve and tenderness, while never forgetting that this is a resplendently comedic form ... Jacobson has clearly done half a lifetime of looking at the streets in which Shimi wanders and through which Beryl is driven. One of the many joys of this book is the way it effortlessly captures the distinctive atmosphere of Finchley Road itself, a dual carriageway that is punctuated with outsize supermarkets but retains the ghosts of a 1950s high street. Jacobson uses this cityscape to reinforce the understanding that both Beryl and Shimi rail against in different and quietly heroic ways: that ultimately we are not given a choice what our sadistic memory has us remember – unless, that is, we find some new neural pathways to wander along in the present.
In interviews...Jacobson has continued to grumble that 'we’re dying of correctness,' and that 'a woman can make fun of a man, but a man can’t make fun of the woman, that is the rule of it at the moment.' But...this is a rule he appears to have accepted, at least judging from the book itself, which is by some distance the kindliest novel of his career—and, more unexpectedly still, none the worse for it ... Although Live a Little isn’t one of Jacobson’s more Jewish books, he does have fun with the many elderly Jewish widows ... Not only does Jacobson’s affection for the widows shine through every scene they appear in, but he also mounts a touching, almost dewy-eyed defense of 'the elderly glamorous,' ... Even in his most belligerent books, Jacobson has always prized conversation between men and women highly, which makes it all the more surprising, as well as disappointing, that Shimi and Beryl’s should be the weakest aspect of the novel ... Unfortunately...Shimi and Beryl speak to each other the way Jacobson writes at his worst: i.e., with slightly irksome—and for conversation distinctly improbable—portentousness ... But even this weirdly obvious blemish doesn’t prevent the overall effect of Shimi and Beryl’s relationship from being undeniably sweet ... In the end, there’s no mistaking that this is a book that proves the truth of Beryl’s claim, 'It’s never too late for anything'—even a nice Howard Jacobson novel.
... a darkly funny geriatric love story ... Some writers just seem to get better the closer they get to the end – not because they’re worried about death, perhaps, but because they’ve finished worrying about it: dying is for the young to obsess about. Jacobson is nearing eighty, and Live a Little is one of those late-life novels full of such wisdom and insight that it makes you wonder why anyone ever bothers reading – or watching – the young at all ... Jacobson reminds us that dying is not the worst thing that can happen to us: never having lived is far worse – and living is more than merely staying young.
This bitterly funny observation of the terror and humiliations of falling in love in old age shows Jacobson on fine form ... Live a Little is a meander of a novel that nonetheless feels urgent – not least because one fears either of its two central characters might keel over at any point. But for all its moments of bleakness, and the occasional flicker of genuine terror, it’s rarely less than bitterly funny in its determination to face up to the obliteration that awaits us all.
...the predominant note is not wistfulness or regret, but a bracing, refreshing astringency ... In Jacobson’s gnarled hands, there is no room for self-pity in this almost merciless depiction of age and its terrors. As a result, Live a Little is airless, claustrophobically intense ... Live a Little is an angry book, as well as tartly funny and audacious. It needs more than one reading for its full meaning to be mined, and its literary, historical and political references grasped. So too the hard-hitting barbs, Jacobson’s aphorisms memorably punctuating the plot. This is an unflinching portrait of great old age ... In precis, the bare bones of this novel appear to be cruel, and on one level is it the most unforgiving of stories. On another, as the resolution approaches, it is generous.
...shocking, bordering on scandalous, but, ultimately, surprisingly satisfying ... Jacobson is more than kind to his cantankerous heroine and circumspect hero. He imbues them with a pathos, a vibrancy, a joie de vivre that is delightful and enlightening. A charming romp.
... turns the notion of old folks languishing in a retirement home on its head. These Londoners live in their own flats, plot devious ways to become the most popular among them, snag the eligible bachelor, and hold social events galore. They may be almost centenarians, but that doesn’t mean they can’t act like teenagers. A little bit love story, a lot character study, Live a Little will touch your heart and your funny bone at the same time. Go on, enjoy!
It isn’t until roughly the novel’s midpoint that Beryl and Shimi meet and Jacobson’s talents as an astute student of human nature and his mastery of witty, acid-dipped dialogue shine brightest ... Live a Little’s message—that life isn’t truly over until it ends—is a refreshingly optimistic one for readers of any age.
The protagonists in Live a Little are elderly, and Jacobson delights in divulging, with impudent humour, their infirmities and embarrassments: their frailty, their fears of incontinence, their vain attempts to retain any sort of sexual allure ... But Live a Little is not bitter. At its heart is an affectionate, life-affirming love story, and the emotion it leaves you with is joy ... Naturally, there are imperfections, which usually arise in the service of a joke: flippant asides or minor characters that exist only to elicit a laugh ... But the characterisation of the leads is superb: Shimi the tortured antihero might have been written by Saul Bellow, and Beryl is an extraordinarily rich and sympathetic figure, full of life-force and humour and commanding authority layered over a deep-seated self-doubt. Jacobson’s prose is nimble and elegant. The message this novel contains is a simple, affecting one, about the capacity to determine one’s future, no matter how late.
Things begin promisingly enough ... The first half of the novel zips along irreverently but a comedy whose jokes increasingly fail to hit their mark, while plot and character remain underdeveloped, can make rather wearing reading. Shimi, knowing that the end of his life is near, hopes to see 'that there’s a shape to it all, like the end of a good mystery story, when you see why everything happened as it did. I know how he feels.
Here, in his 16th novel, Jacobson (with what his publishers inevitably describe as his 'trademark wit') gives us a glorious odd couple not so much in their autumn years as at the doors of death ... Jacobson...is an established chronicler of the lives, loves and libidos of the British Jewish community... His exceedingly funny and discursive prose style often belies more serious observations on life, as is the case here ... despite the inherent tragedy of being human — the inevitability of death and the passing of time — Jacobson’s message isn’t bleak. 'You should never suppose you know the story of your life until it’s over,' he writes in this tender, insightful novel. There are opportunities for humour, redemption and hope regardless of how close the end is.
This, I think, is the core of the novel: it’s actually as much about language and linguistic deftness as it is about the human heart (I suspect Jacobson might say that language and the human heart are extremely adjacent). Some novels — especially those that verge on the incident-free, such as this one — can go off the boil in the reader’s head: yes, I get it, we say to ourselves. Live a Little actually gathers pace as it goes along, the characters, as they converse, striking sparks off one another ... This is a novel rich in correspondences, and also in wisdom, and a kind of audacity.
Live a Little...has a Shakespearean feel, but that of a comedy...Much Ado perhaps. Fast and clever ... As the narrative develops, the plot twists more and more, the dialogue gets faster and cleverer, and the past is harder to shake off. Memories, if you can remember them at all, are more tenacious. The novel’s brilliant cover tells it all: hearts and skulls, love and death.
Live a Little... is ostensibly a love story about these two nonagenarians, who live across from one another on North London’s Finchley Road. But its themes have less to do with romance than with humiliation and regret, privilege and bad parenting, a temperamental prostate and, above all, words ... This new book is classic Jacobson: smart and quippy, full of literary allusions and mined with barbs ... Even if the Beryl-meets-Shimi romance is unconvincing, this novel is worth reading—for the words.
'...a tender story of unlikely love ... a shrewd, surprising tale ... Jacobson treats with compassion the dilemma of old age, when the future seems to hold nothing more than 'the same, unvarying story' and an inevitable diminishment; instead, he offers his brittle Princess and self-effacing fortuneteller a chance to discover deeply hidden capacities for kindness and caring and the inspiration, as the Princess puts it, to 'risk another end.' Wise, witty, and deftly crafted.