Philip Roth

Philip Roth The Prague Orgy, the epilogue to his Zuckerman trilogy of novels, was published last year. A new novel, The Counterlife, is due out in the autumn.

Aharon Appelfeld lives a few miles west of Jerusalem in a maze-like conglomeration of attractive stone dwellings directly next to an ‘absorption centre’, where immigrants are temporarily housed, schooled and prepared for life in their new society. The arduous journey that landed Appelfeld on the beaches of Tel Aviv in 1946, at the age of 14, seems to have fostered an unappeasable...

Philip Roth talks about his work

Philip Roth, 5 March 1987

Many critics and reviewers persist in writing about Roth rather than his fiction. Why this persistence after all these years?

If that’s so, it may have to do with the intensity with which my fiction has focused upon the self-revealing dilemmas of a single, central character whose biography, in certain obvious details, overlaps with mine, and who is then assumed ‘to be’ me.


On the September Friday that I arrived in Turin – to renew a conversation with Primo Levi that we had begun one afternoon in London the spring before – I asked to be shown around the paint factory where he’d been employed as a research chemist, and, afterwards, until retirement, as factory manager. Altogether the company employs 50 people, mainly chemists who work in the laboratories and skilled labourers on the floor of the plant. The production machinery, the row of storage tanks, the laboratory building, the finished product in man-sized containers ready to be shipped, the reprocessing facility that purifies the wastes – all of it is encompassed in four or five acres a seven-mile drive from Turin. The machines that are drying resin and blending varnish and pumping off pollutants are never distressingly loud, the yard’s acrid odour – the smell, Levi told me, that clung to his clothing for two years after his retirement – is by no means disgusting, and the skip loaded with the black sludgy residue of the anti-polluting process isn’t particularly unsightly. It is hardly the world’s ugliest industrial environment, but a very long way, nonetheless, from those sentences suffused with mind that are the hallmark of Levi’s autobiographical narratives. On the other hand, however far from the prose, it is clearly a place close to his heart; taking in what I could of the noise, the stink, the mosaic of pipes and vats and tanks and dials, I remembered Faussone, the skilled rigger in The Monkey’s Wrench, saying to Levi, who calls Faussone ‘my alter ego’: ‘I have to tell you, being around a work site is something I enjoy.’’

Pictures of Malamud

Philip Roth, 8 May 1986

‘Mourning is a hard business,’ Cesare said. ‘If people knew there’d be less death.’

From Malamud’s ‘Life is Better than Death’

In February 1961 I travelled west from Iowa City, where I was teaching in the Writers’ Workshop of the university and finishing a second book, to give a lecture called ‘Writing American Fiction’ at...

In the 1980s I translated some of the late novels and stories of Alberto Moravia, elderly but still prolific. These books, which abandoned observation of society for concerns with ageing and sex,...

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On the Brink: Philip Roth

James Lever, 28 January 2010

Here’s a novella of slightly over 30,000 very plain words – Philip Roth’s shortest book since The Prague Orgy – structurally straightforward, winnowed of syntactical...

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Hysterical Vigour

Frank Kermode, 23 October 2008

The title of this novel comes from the Chinese national anthem: Arise, ye who refuse to be bondslaves! With our very flesh and blood We will build a new Great Wall! China’s masses have met...

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Z/R: Exit Zuckerman

John Banville, 4 October 2007

A large part of the reason for the continuing democratic vigour of the American novel is that the great wave of Modernism was no more than a ripple by the time it reached New England’s...

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This brief, disconsolate and in certain respects disagreeable novel starts with the funeral of the anonymous (eponymous) hero and ends with his death. The circularity in the narrative is a...

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‘Because what’s history?’ a character asks rhetorically in Philip Roth’s astonishing new novel. ‘History is everything that happens everywhere. Even here in Newark....

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Philip Roth likes, or has liked, to describe himself as a ‘suppositional’ novelist. Much of his writing practice, he has said, takes off from a ‘what if?’ What if Franz...

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What the hell happened? Philip Roth

Alexander Star, 4 February 1999

Some time ago, Philip Roth remarked that his novels investigate ‘people in trouble’. Though much about his work has changed over the years, his fictional landscapes are still littered...

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Dangerous Girls

Dale Peck, 3 July 1997

Most readers, it seems, are willing and able to construct complete narratives from even the tiniest snippets of information, whether in the form of lazily written genre fiction or in the artful...

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I am disorder

Michael Wood, 19 October 1995

Portnoy complained that his life was a Jewish joke, and Philip Roth himself once suggested that American reality beggared the imagination of even the most extravagant novelist. Who could have...

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Nicely! Nicely!

Jenny Turner, 13 May 1993

If you are anything like me, you will find yourself having to fight off a sort of sinking feeling as the new Philip Roth comes thudding into your life. What If A Lookalike Stranger Stole Your...

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How to be your father’s mother

Adam Phillips, 12 September 1991

A crucial incident in Patrimony comes when Roth’s aged and ill father, Herman, ‘beshats himself’, as he puts it:   ‘Don’t tell the children,’ he...

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Dirty Jokes

Julian Symons, 13 September 1990

‘Julia died. I read it in the Times this morning... I never liked her, nor did she like me; strange, then, how we managed to keep up a sort of friendship for so long.’ The first...

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Facts Schmacts

John Sutherland, 16 February 1989

Authors can be terrible liars, and never more so than when they are in the autobiographical vein. Like salesmen, they are at their most dangerous when most sincere. Roth’s publishers...

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Philip Roth in Israel

Julian Barnes, 5 March 1987

Philip Roth’s new novel is marvellously rich, boisterously serious, dense, fizzing and formally audacious. More than with most novels, to review it is to betray it. This isn’t...

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D.A.N. Jones, 21 November 1985

Security is the problem that exercises both Philip Roth and Raymond Williams. The sort of ‘security’ I mean is the sort that spreads a feeling of insecurity – a fear of...

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Carry on writing

Stephen Bann, 15 March 1984

‘Putting on again joyously the hateful harness’. That is how Robert Pinget’s diffident and slightly dotty narrator, Monsieur Songe, describes the process of taking up his pen...

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Test Case

Robert Taubman, 3 September 1981

With ‘nothing else to do but the impossible’, when revolution breaks out in South Africa, Bam and Maureen Smales accept their house servant’s offer of refuge in his tribal...

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Philip Roth’s House of Fiction

Michael Mason, 6 December 1979

The Ghost Writer is Philip Roth’s best novel yet. Certainly it is his most ingenious. But this familiar way of putting things may contain a mistake, a mistake which is part of the...

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