Sunday, August 08, 2010

Howard Jacobson on Philip Roth

From yesterday's Guardian:

"I'm disappointed [Philip Roth] thinks it's all too grim now to be comic. I've always thought that it's now that we need it. We didn't need it when it was just about wanking when you were a boy. That was terrific, it was wonderfully done, but that was the easy stuff. Do it now, now that your body's decaying all round you and you hate your life."

Jacobson's premise is that comic writing is an important - maybe essential - element of good writing about tragic matters. I agree with the generality of his point - humour out of the decay of your life is powerful indeed. But in the specific case of Roth I'm not sure I agree. I think the writing he has produced in the past few years is stunning. Humourless maybe, but now that his focus is on mortality and meaning I think his work has become extremely powerful. I'd much rather re-read Everyman than Portnoy's Complaint.

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