Portnoy’s Complaint author dies aged 85

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One of the great American authors, Philip Roth, has died aged 85.

The Pulitzer, National Book Award and Man Booker International Prize-winning novelist’s work drew its inspiration from Jewish family life, sex and American ideals.

His works included American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and Portnoy’s Complaint.

The New York Times reported that a close friend of Roth’s said he had died of congestive heart failure.

Roth first found success with his short story collection, Goodbye Columbus, published in 1959.

A decade later his sexually explicit novel Portnoy’s Complaint catapulted him to notoriety, making him a celebrity in the US.

In later life, he wrote a number of highly regarded historical novels, including his 1997 work American Pastoral, for which he won his Pulitzer.

He wrote prolifically over the course of his career, publishing more than 30 books before ending his fiction career in 2009.

When Roth won the 2011 Man Booker International, chairman of the judges Rick Gekoski said: “His career is remarkable in that he starts at such a high level, and keeps getting better.

“In his 50s and 60s, when most novelists are in decline, he wrote a string of novels of the highest, enduring quality.”

He also recognised that Roth’s win divided the Man Booker International panel, and had caused one judge to quit in protest.

“I can recall few of his novels that don’t provoke an occasional but overwhelming desire to shout ‘Will you shut up!’ at a character or his author,” he said.

In 2014, Roth told the BBC he would make no more public appearances: “I can guarantee you that this is my last appearance ever on television… absolutely [my] last appearance on any stage anywhere.”

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, his biographer Blake Bailey spoke of how much Roth enjoyed writing about the Jewish neighbourhood where he grew up, in Newark, New Jersey.

“It is ironic that he got this reputation as a self-hating Jew,” he said.

“Philip despised anti-Semitism in all its forms and he himself loved Jews, he loved growing up in a Jewish neighbourhood. He didn’t have much time for the religious side of it, but everything else was just great.”

Screenwriter David Simon – creator of The Wire – said Roth was “the great American novelist of our post-war world”.

He is reportedly working on a television adaptation of The Plot Against America, a Roth novel that imagined right-wing aviator Charles Lindbergh becoming president instead of Franklin D Roosevelt.

Author David Baddiel said: “He’s about the only writer, I would say, who is considered to be amongst the greatest in the canon who is properly funny.

“His books are laugh-out-loud funny. You read on the back of many, many books ‘hilarious’ and they never are, but Roth’s actually are. Roth’s can make you laugh, and I think that is a real achievement of his.

“He had two prose styles. [One which was] very turbo-charged, very fast and overflowing with images and jokes, and then he had a more stately way of doing it in things like the Zuckerman novels, where he sees himself more self-consciously as a novelist.”

 

Source: BBC

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