I have written about a couple of books of Philip Roth before on this blog. This American author has to be one of the most talked about and yet difficult authors on the current literary scene. Well, almost current scene as he has recently announced his retirement from writing).
Roth has perhaps been talked about too often for other reasons than his writing, which is brilliant, questioning, sometimes tortuous and always (at least in the 3 books that I have now read of his to date) totally fascinating. He can of course be annoying, repetitive, cantankerous, manipulative and so on. These are perhaps simply other measures of his importance as a writer: Roth asks a lot of questions, of us as well as of himself, and they are not always comfortable ones, and not always easy to answer.
Take the latest book of his that I have just finished: The Counterlife, which was first published in the USA in 1986. The construction is as fascinating as it is sometimes confusing, as Roth alternates between the characters of two brothers, sort of alter-egos, and their ficticious lives, each of which may (or may not) incorportate auto-biographical elements. The theme of the book, apart from those of death, sex and married life, revolves quite extensively about "jewishness" as Roth puts it himself, as it explores various ways in which the current world, in New York, Israel or England, ignores or reflects this "condition" either as a claim to identity or as a reason for rejection, starting with what is perhaps the authors own point of view of distance and neutrality from all things not only religious but also concerning so-called racial "identity".
Although the commentaries seen on the cover of the edition that I bought laud Roth's "comic genius", this in not a hilariously funny book, although it is rife with derision and has its totally slapstick moments like the attempted hijacking of an El Al flight from Tel Aviv to London, and the baseball catch (a little earlier, and by the high-jacker) against the Wailing Wall of Jersusalem. His portraits of characters are as precise as they are pitiless, whether they be of prim and frustrated upper-class English ladies or of militant Zionist fanatics living in West Bank colonies.
Another highly recommended novel by Philip Roth who digs deeper and laughs more sardonically that most authors.