A glorious collision of columnist’s satire, wit and seriousness

Veteran journalist Howard Jacobson depicts the grind and inspiration behind his opinion columns in The Dog's Last Walk. 

Howard Jacobson
Allen & Unwin



Late in this book, Howard Jacobson writes: "Out there at this very moment, in lofts, basements, lean-tos and neglected gardens, a thousand otherwise genial-tempered hacks are rubbing the lamp of intemperate opinion to coax out a view — immoderately enthusiastic or grossly derogatory, it hardly matters which, and the distinction probably won’t be noticed anyway — on celebrity chefs, wayward footballers, twerking pop stars, tattooed nobodies and any one of a thousand comedians whose routine is indistinguishable from the others — a judgement I no sooner make than I withdraw lest you think I have a view on the matter."

Having been one of those "hacks" (a columnist for the Star Midweek back in the ’90s), I appreciate Jacobson’s feelings about what it is to write a column: sometimes a grind, sometimes inspired, sometimes finding an idea that takes you places you never meant to go.

In the last column published here he writes about seeing each piece as a little novel: " . . . essays into rather than about, dramatic pieces in which I didn’t have to say what I believed, because I didn’t know, or didn’t want to know, or hoped that in the interactive play of images and ideas a way of looking at the world would emerge that wasn’t trite, that might surprise and energise, and would give pleasure."

Certainly, these columns give pleasure: they remain immensely readable, full of satire, wit, humour, deep seriousness (often disguised under one or more of the three previous categories), good sound commonsense, and a great deal of self-deprecation. Not that this is really Howard Jacobson we’re reading about, anyway; he tells us that no columnist actually presents himself as he actually is. Something else I can affirm.

He covers a wide range of topics, but other people’s anti-Zionist ideologies, the bad behaviour of cyclists, Australia, and not believing/believing in God appear most often. I’ve never read a book of columns where I just went straight from one to another without any sense of obligation. Jacobson’s writing is endearing and vital, sometimes spitting tacks, sometimes sentimental.

These columns are so entertaining and (frequently) wise, that they bear repeated readings. That’s quite outstanding for writings that first appeared in a newspaper.

- Mike Crowl is a Dunedin author, musician and composer.

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