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Yuh wanna play bad?

Christopher Tayler: Henry Roth, 23 March 2006

Redemption: The Life of Henry Roth 
by Steven Kellman.
Norton, 372 pp., $16.99, September 2005, 0 393 05779 8
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Call It Sleep 
by Henry Roth.
Picador US, 462 pp., $15, July 2005, 0 312 42412 4
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... For a long time, Henry Roth’s silence was considered one of the most resonant in modern American literature. Ralph Ellison and J.D. Salinger were his only competition. When Call It Sleep (1934), Roth’s first novel, became a bestseller, thirty years after it first appeared, reporters found him scraping a living in Maine, gloomily slaughtering ducks and geese with equipment he’d made out of parts scavenged from discarded washing-machines ...

Z/R

John Banville: Exit Zuckerman, 4 October 2007

Exit Ghost 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 292 pp., £16.99, October 2007, 978 0 224 08173 3
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... Mailer used vociferously to demand, who will analyse the analysts, if not the artist? Philip Roth, like John Updike, is a survivor from the glory days of the heavyweights, the Hemingways and the Faulkners and the Bellows. His first book, the story collection Goodbye, Columbus, published in 1959, won the National Book Award, a notable achievement for a ...

Philip Roth in Israel

Julian Barnes, 5 March 1987

The Counterlife 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 336 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 224 02871 5
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... 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 inappropriate, since one of Roth’s abiding themes is fiction’s betrayal of life and the novelist’s treachery to those who surround him ...

Empire of Signs

James Wood: Joseph Roth, 4 March 1999

The String of Pearls 
by Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Granta, 224 pp., £12.99, May 1998, 1 86207 087 3
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... With Joseph Roth, you begin – and end – with the prose. The great delight of this Austrian novelist, who wrote in the Twenties and Thirties, lies in his strange, nimble, curling sentences, which are always skewing into the most unexpected metaphors. It is rare to find luminous powers of realism and narrative clarity so finely combined with a high poetic temperature ...

Desk Job

Deborah Friedell: Bernard Malamud, 15 November 2007

Bernard Malamud: A Writer’s Life 
by Philip Davis.
Oxford, 377 pp., £18.99, September 2007, 978 0 19 927009 5
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... In Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer, 23-year-old Nathan Zuckerman, ‘already contemplating my own massive Bildungsroman’, makes a jaunty pilgrimage to the clapboard farmhouse of Emanuel Lonoff, the great Jewish-American writer whose work Zuckerman admires but aims to surpass. Although Lonoff writes about Jews, he has secluded himself in the goyish New England countryside in the hope of being left alone: ‘I turn sentences around ...

Soft-Speaking Tough Souls

Joyce Carol Oates: Grace Paley, 16 April 1998

The Collected Stories of Grace Paley 
Virago, 398 pp., £12.99, January 1998, 1 86049 423 4Show More
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... from the densely populated, fiercely individualistic Yiddish culture of which Anzia Yezierska and Henry Roth wrote in die Twenties and Thirties in such novels as Bread Givers and Call It Sleep respectively; this vanished world of ‘heroic’ elders Paley explores only by way of her father, who appears in her short fiction as an elderly gentleman of ...

The Coldest Place on Earth

Liam McIlvanney: Colm Tóibín’s ‘Brooklyn’, 25 June 2009

Brooklyn 
by Colm Tóibín.
Viking, 252 pp., £17.99, April 2009, 978 0 670 91812 6
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... from the perspective of the sons and daughters, rather than that of the migrants themselves. From Henry Roth to Philip Roth, it’s the second or third generation whose experience shapes the fiction of immigration. Brooklyn is unusual in telling the story from the immigrant’s perspective, the more so since ...

Modernity’s Undoing

Pankaj Mishra: ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’, 31 March 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad 
by Jennifer Egan.
Corsair, 336 pp., £14.99, March 2011, 978 1 78033 028 0
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... to the modern world as China and India, has implications for how we see American literature. Henry James may have lamented the social thinness of American history, and its apparent inability to generate great writing, but Stein’s formulation makes James look like an incorrigible 19th-century Europhile who failed to recognise that history specifically ...

Philip Roth’s House of Fiction

Michael Mason, 6 December 1979

The Ghost Writer 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 180 pp., £4.95
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... 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 subject-matter of Roth’s book. ‘Best novel yet’ implies a future of prosperous activity which may be barmecidal ...

Facts Schmacts

John Sutherland, 16 February 1989

The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 328 pp., £12.95, February 1989, 0 224 02593 7
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... in the autobiographical vein. Like salesmen, they are at their most dangerous when most sincere. Roth’s publishers trumpet The Facts: A Novelist’s Autobiography as the facts, a novelist’s autobiography – ‘Roth and his battles, defictionalised and unadorned’. It’s the more suspicious since ...

In the Egosphere

Adam Mars-Jones: The Plot against Roth, 23 January 2014

Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books 
by Claudia Roth Pierpont.
Cape, 353 pp., £25, January 2014, 978 0 224 09903 5
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... Claudia Roth Pierpont met Philip Roth at a birthday party in 2002. She was a fan, but managed not to alienate him with clumsy enthusiasm. A couple of years later he sent her a photocopy of a newspaper article he thought she might be interested in. They met for coffee and became more relaxed with each other ...

‘OK, holy man, try this

Ian Hamilton: The Hypothetical Philip Roth, 22 June 2000

The Human Stain 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 361 pp., £16.99, May 2000, 0 224 06090 2
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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 Kafka had made it to America and there lived on to become a New Jersey schoolmaster? What if Anne Frank had survived and found out about the publication of her diary from a chance reading of Time magazine? What if a man could actually become a breast? What if a decent, shamefaced Jewish boy were to extol the joys of masturbation? And what if we, Roth’s readers, could join in and ask, for instance, what if an earnest young Jewish novelist of the 1950s were to find himself unfairly chastised for his disloyalty to Jews? And what if this same novelist decided to respond by handing his chastisers something they could really, and fairly, get to work on? What if he were to zap them with Portnoy’s Complaint and proceed to sell half a million copies of said horror to the Gentiles? And what if he were then to find himself outlawed and reviled, not just by tribal religious types but even by wise, novel-reading intellectuals? What if one of these intellectuals were to call Portnoy ‘the book of which all anti-semites have been dreaming?’ And what if yet another were to dismiss this earnest young Jewish novelist of the 1950s as a mere pedlar of cheap gags? ‘The cruellest thing anybody can do to Portnoy’s Complaint is to read it twice,’ said Irving Howe – and this was just about the cruellest thing he could do to Philip Roth ...

What the hell happened?

Alexander Star: Philip Roth, 4 February 1999

I Married a Communist 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 323 pp., £16.99, October 1998, 0 224 05258 6
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... 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 with human wreckage. Rage and lust, anxiety and melancholy are the dominant emotions, and all human impulses, even loyalty and affection, tend to career wildly out of control ...

How to be your father’s mother

Adam Phillips, 12 September 1991

Patrimony: A True Story 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 238 pp., £13.99, April 1991, 0 671 70375 7
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... 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 said, looking up at me from the bed with his one sighted eye.   ‘I won’t tell anyone,’ I said. ‘I’ll say you’re taking a rest.’   ‘Don’t tell Claire ...

Under the Steinway

Jenny Diski: Marco Roth, 7 March 2013

The Scientists: A Family Romance 
by Marco Roth.
Union Books, 196 pp., £14.99, January 2013, 978 1 908526 19 9
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... last sign of childhood wealth, the green velvet curtains, to make a dress. In my memory, Maisie in Henry James’s novel scarcely leaves the lush Victorian interiors whichever adult she finds herself with. Colin, the son of the dour Yorkshire house in The Secret Garden, is mysteriously and miserably bedridden in a room of overpoweringly ornate ...

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