The silence of Roth

Early in the 1990s, a string of nasty things happened to Philip Roth after which the original enfant terrible of American letters checked himself into a psychiatric facility, claiming he was near suicide. No one knows what happened there, but Roth came out and wrote as if he was on borrowed time. The four books that followed immediately, from Sabbath's Theater (1995) to The Human Stain (2000), constituted what Salman Rushdie called Roth's "late blast" in a career that began with Goodbye, Columbus (1959). The books came at nearly one per year till Nemesis (2010), which appears destined now to be Roth's last novel after his announcement to French magazine Les InRocks last month that he is "done" with writing.

The Anglophone world, having picked up the news, will be saddened but not shocked. Writers grow old, and then they die. The only agency a writer hopes to preserve is determining the pace of the ebbing. Roth's last books have not only been thin in size but demonstrated a measured stepping back, controlling his walk to the "retirement" he has confirmed now, three months from his 80th birthday. It began with his meditation on death and departure in Everyman (2006).

For a man whose life is "turning sentences around", however, it would be in order to be sceptical about Roth's decision to call it a career. Not because he has been persistently ignored by the Nobel committee, but because of his own statement: "I have dedicated my life to the novel: I have studied it, I have taught it, I have written it and I have read it. To the exclusion of almost everything else. It's enough." It's never enough for a writer who, according to Cynthia Ozick, has "transcended that low word career" and become "the thing-in-itself".

Please read our terms of use before posting comments
TERMS OF USE: The views expressed in comments published on indianexpress.com are those of the comment writer's alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of The Indian Express Group or its staff. Comments are automatically posted live; however, indianexpress.com reserves the right to take it down at any time. We also reserve the right not to publish comments that are abusive, obscene, inflammatory, derogatory or defamatory.