Beryl is forgetting everything—including her own children, while Shimi is tormented by his inability to forget the traumas of his past. Both are heading helplessly into their nineties, and believe that life has little left for them. When they meet, the possibility of new and meaningful connection comes alive.
...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.