Monday, 12 November 2012

Exit Roth: "I have dedicated my life to the novel."

This weekend, it emerged that Philip Roth - probably my favourite author - is no longer writing novels. Nemesis, published in 2010 and currently sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, is apparently Roth's last book.

As Robert McCrum writes in this short article, its not beyond Roth to have "one last piece of literary magic" up his sleeve, but at 79 and with dozens of novels to his name, it seems fair to take Roth at his word for now.

I was first introduced to Roth's books as an undergraduate, when I took a Jewish-American lit module as part of my degree (taught by my absolute favourite lecturer at the time, and still the best lecturer I have ever had the pleasure of being taught by, Dr. Abramson, who is now retired). We read Portnoy's Complaint, and my housemate and I, who were in the same class, spent most of the week we'd been given to read it reading out the rudest bits to each other. (For the record, I think the most-repeated section was the part where a young Portnoy masturbates into a joint of meat, which is later served to the rest of the family by his unsuspecting mother.) But apart from being gloriously funny and rude, it also made me want to run out read all of Roth's other novels.

Over the last few years, I have read a small number of them, against the backdrop of so many more than I have yet to read. (Of the 27 novels of Roth's, excluding collections and non-fiction, I have read 12.) Some of my favourite books of all time are on that list: The Plot Against America being the most obvious, but not discounting The Human Stain, Everyman, American Pastoral, and a raft of others that it has been (mostly) nothing but a joy to read.

Roth says he has stopped writing in order to be able to reread his favourite novels. I still have a long way to go until I come anywhere near to needing to embark on a reread of Roth to satisfy my love of his work - those other 15 novels should keep me busy for a long time - but I can't think of many writers who I have enjoyed so much as a reader, and it'll be shame to see him leave the field. I learned a lot from Dr. A in those Jewish-Am Lit classes, but I think my appreciation for Philip Roth is the most enduring legacy. Apart from knowing how to pronounce "Chaim" correctly, maybe... (And that whole Woody Allen thing.)

1 comment:

  1. I am sure I have heard his name, but I haven't ever read his book. That scene you mentioned made me crack up and disgusted at the same time, ha!


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