Brow Beat

Philip Roth: “It’s as Though He’s Sitting on Your Face”

It wasannounced today that Philip Roth has beenawarded the fourth Man Booker International Prize , a major award granted every other year to a living author who either writes in Englishor whose work is widely available in translation. But if you expected this to be a genteel celebration of one man’s long, productive life in letters, think again.

Though thepanel had three members, the decision to award Roth the £60,000 prize was really made bytwo people, chair RickGekoski , an academic and rare-book dealer, and novelist Justin Cartwright .The third judge, Carmen Callil author and head of the feministpublishing house Virago withdrew from the panel in protest over the decision to grant Roth theaward. And how! The Guardian quotesher today as saying , “he goes on and on and on about the same subject inalmost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and youcan’t breathe.” She goes on to say:

I don’t rate him as a writer at all. Imade it clear that I wouldn’t have put him on the longlist, so I was amazedwhen he stayed there. He was the only one I didn’t admire-all the others werefine … Roth goes to the core of their [Cartwright and Gekoski’s] beings. But hecertainly doesn’t go to the core of mine … Emperor’s clothes: in 20 years’time will anyone read him?

Callil willexpand her arguments in a column this Saturday in the GuardianReview , so Roth fans have a few days to rehearse their rebuttals

Slate would probably argue that we’ll still be reading Roth in 20 years’ time after all, we’vecovered nearly every new work of his since we were founded in 1996. You can checkout our Roth archives here:

MichaelGorra on 2010’s Nemesis

JudithShulevitz on how to read Roth’s “quarteton aging,” Everyman, Indignation, TheHumbling , and Nemesis

JonathanRosen on 2008’s Indignation

Stephen Metcalfon 2007’s Exit Ghost  

Stephen Metcalfon 2006’s Everyman (Metcalf, MeghanO’Rourke, and Katie Roiphe also discussed Everyman in our audio book clubpodcast )

JudithShulevitz and Nicholas Lemann on 2004’s The Plot Against America ; David Greenberg on The Plot Against America

Alex Abramovich, in 2001, on whether Woody Allen and Philip Roth wereseparated at birth

JudithShulevitz and Brent Staples on 2000’s The Human Stain

KathaPollitt and Philip Weiss on 1998’s I Married a Communist

Paul Bermanon 1997’s American Pastoral


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