I was in the conservatory at Bloomsbury HQ at the launch party for Howard Jacobson’s new novel, Zoo Time. This is, as they say, a writer’s book. Its hero, Guy Abelman, is a mid-list novelist labouring under twin preoccupations with a) attractive mother-in-laws, and b) the strangulation of the book industry by eBooks. Classic Jacobson.
The first weird turn came early on. I thought I recognised Simon Schama nursing a glass of champagne and talking animatedly. “He’s put on weight,” I remarked to my friend, K. “Must be the fat of success.”
After a few minutes, to my surprise, Schama came over to say hello. Or rather, he reached for the sausage rolls on the table beside me and I seized his outstretched hand, taking it to be a gesture of greeting.
“Oh, do you remember me?” he said.
“Yes, of course,” I replied, reflexively. I had never met Simon Schama before. There followed an awkward silence. To break it, I said, “so are you working on any big projects?”
He answered with a seeming non sequitur. “I just read your latest novel,” he said. “I’ve heard your mother lives very near my shop.”
Instantly, I realised my mistake. This was Michael Joseph, proprietor of Joseph’s Bookstore in Temple Fortune, northwest London. Not Simon Schama. So much for the fat of success: Joseph’s Bookstore has a very nice restaurant attached (described by Michael Joseph himself as “strictly not-non-kosher”). I gave K a sidelong glance. She was wearing an expression of profound confusion. Continue reading on the Telegraph website