Portnoy’s Complaint

Having read The Human Stain recently I was keen to try out some more of Phillip Roth’s work. I was hopeful that I’d found a new (to me) author with a large body of published work that I could spend some time going through, safe in the knowledge that if Borders, Waterstones or Amazon failed to throw up something new and tempting I could always buy another Roth and have something enjoyable to read. It was in one of these untempting spells then that I thought I’d try Portnoy’s Complaint (chosen primarily due to the blurb saying that it was one of the funniest books ever written about sex).

Portnoy narrates the novel in a gushing, self obsessed first person. It’s told in the style of a session with a psychiatrist; a warts and all confession from the couch by a young successful Jewish man obsessed with his schlong and goyish girls.

Having described The Human Stain as structured, clean and intellectual (and undeniably East Coast America) it was a bit of a surprise to find that Portnoy’s Complaint is completely different in style. Still undeniably East Coast, but this time the style is New York Jewish rather than Boston Intellectual. It’s a testemant to Roth’s skill that this work is still as convincing and all encompassing, yet so so different. This book is bubbling, gushing, unstructured, coming in waves over you as you read it. It’s real stream of consciousness stuff – the absolute antithesis of The Human Stain.

I must say that I feel a bit overwhelmed by fiction about the Jewish nature at the moment. Having read Everything Is Illuminated, Kavalier and Clay, The Dream of Scipio and Fatherland in relatively quick succession I’m not sure I was ready for yet another dip into the psyche of the Jewish male. I’m also not sure I was ready for such a single minded novel with a narrator for whom I had no empathy.

I struggled through this one; it just wasn’t really my cup of tea. I have a feeling that I’ve probably done a great book a great injustice, but, well… The book is very pacy, beautifully written and often funny but I couldn’t get inside the narrator’s head and have seen enough Woody Allen movies to know that New York Jewish boys have a difficult relationship with sex and their mothers (usually for the same reasons). This was, therefore, a bit of a disappointment. It hasn’t put me off Phillip Roth though, I may just be more careful in choosing my next one.

Plumbing the depths

I’m very upset. Very upset. Today I received an email which began:

It’s not easy to impress a road warrior like you,
Andy. But we have a feeling that Double Hilton HHonors Base Points might do the trick.

Since when did I become a Road Warrior? Jesus. I’m miserable.

It was a dark and stormy night

Any fan of Peanuts will know the line “it was a dark and stormy night”… This line has inspired the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest – a competition to write the worst possible opening line of the worst possible novel. The winners of 2004 have been announced… My favourite (from the Children’s Literature category) is:

Jack planted the magic beans and in one night a giant beanstalk grew all the way from the earth up to the clouds–which sounds like a lie, but it can be done with genetic engineering, and although a few people are against eating gene-engineered foods like those beans it’s a high-paying career to think about for when you grow up.

You may remember the same post from last year