Rakish progress

4 08 2018

The Professor of Desire by Philip Roth


As a student in college, David Kepesh styles himself as ‘a rake among scholars, a scholar among rakes’ – an identity that will cling to him for a lifetime. As Philip Roth follows Kapesh from the domesticity of childhood out into the vast wilderness of erotic possibility, from a ménage à trois in London to the depths of loneliness in New York, Kapesh confronts the central dilemma of pleasure: how to make a truce between dignity and desire; and how to survive the ordeal of an unhallowed existence.

This really isn’t one of his best. Stylistically strong and well written as ever but Kapesh is not an appealing character and at the end of the day his journey of desire feels neither profound nor meaningful. Not a great addition to the campus novel list.




26 03 2016

Indignation by Philip Roth


It is 1951 in America, the second year of the Korean War. A studious, law-abiding, intense youngster from Newark, New Jersey, Marcus Messner is beginning his sophomore year on the pastoral, conservative campus of Ohio’s Winesburg College. And why is he here and not at a local college in Newark where he originally enrolled? Because his father, the sturdy, hardworking neighbourhood butcher seems to have gone mad – mad with fear and apprehension of the dangers of adult life, the dangers of the world, the dangers he sees in the every corner for his beloved boy. So Marcus leaves and, far from home, has to find his way amid the customs and constrictions of another American world.

Indignation is the story of a young man’s education in life’s terrifying chances and bizarre obstructions. It is a story of inexperience, foolishness, intellectual resistance, sexual discovery, courage and error, told with all the inventive energy and with Roth has at his command.

It’s classic Roth territory. Brilliantly written and sharp as ever Roth crafts a story of real power here, highly evocative and with an unusual twist.

four stars


8 03 2012

Nemesis by Philip Roth



Athletic but unfit for war, Bucky Cantor is in charge of the playground in an oppressive New Jersey wartime summer when a polio outbreak begins to strike down the kids in his charge. His reluctant decision to leave his playground director job though has disastrous consequences. It’s a thoroughly compelling and claustrophobic narrative which captures the horror and sadness caused by an invisible enemy and the dilemmas faced by one man trying to face it down.

From the blurb:

Focusing on Cantor’s dilemmas as polio begins to ravage his playground – and on the everyday realities he faces – Roth leads us through every inch of emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering, and the pain.

Not his best but still very good indeed.


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