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"What was remarkable was the frequency with which suicide enters into drama, as though it were a formula fundamental to the drama, not necessarily supported by the action as directed by the workings of the genre itself."
-- Philip Roth, The Humbling
Not my favorite Roth. It reads like a Greek tragedy mixed with a bit of Chekhov, but somehow it just doesn't work for me. I'll admit that I avoided reading these later, smaller Roth novels for some time. I felt as if they were a bit of an author's indulgence: an aging, well-respected writer tossing off a few novellas toward the end of his career for money and because ALL he does is write.
I now am ready to eat those words a bit, but not necessarily with THIS novella. This one IS a bit indulgent, but still it is Philip Roth, so even when he is indulgent, he still manages to shock and move the reader. Anyway, not as good as his other, late-career novellas: Nemesis & Indignation.
I see these books as being Roth trying to exercise some final demons before putting his pen down. I'm not sure if the demon is gone, or if I even liked this book, but it still is impossible to not respect and like Roth even when he disappoints.
9 of 13 people found this review helpful
I love Philip Roth and feel like I just heard someone completely destroy his written word. Here is an example of what can go wrong with audio books. I don't even know if I like The Humbling or not. I downloaded this over a year ago and started listening and realized Dick Hill was not up to the task of reading Philip Roth. So, now, a year later I was stuck on a plane and this is all I had left. My first impression was correct. He absolutely destroys the female characters as they all sound like wilting little flowers. He absolutely destroys sex scenes. And, worst of all, he takes on the voice of Axler, a great stage actor and makes him sound like a cartoon. Well, that was excruciating. Horrible.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?
If the story was more interesting and possibly more realistic.
Would you be willing to try another book from Philip Roth? Why or why not?
I have read that Philip Roth has stronger books so maybe.
Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Dick Hill?
No idea, but Dick Hill was slightly too much theatrical for my taste. And his "womens" voice was way too much feeble and weak. It made all the women in the book sound unintelligent and weak.
What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?
Very much a disappointment. I only read this book because I saw a movie has been made of it. I hoe the movie is better than the book! The protagonist just sounds like a desperate side of the author himself. A "has-been" who feels sorry for himself and ofcourse feels better when he gets sexually involved with a much younger woman. And where does heterosexual male writers get the idea that lesbian women will turn straight when the meet the "right" man? This is such a pathetic fantasy and it shows how many men somehow beleves that being a lesbian is a choice. It is just as unthinkable as a heterosexual man will turn homosexual if he just meets the right man who can show him how lovely it is.
Any additional comments?
Thankful that the book was so short.
The Humbling follows a trajectory those familiar with Roth's later work will be accustomed to.
Simon Axler is a successful stage actor in his mid-60s. However, after struggling with spinal problems and several poor reviews he suffers a crisis of confidence so debilitating his wife flees and he winds up admitting himself to a psychiatric institution. In an art therapy class there he meets Sybil, also depressed after discovering her husband abusing their daughter.
Amazingly for a Roth protagonist, Simon doesn't sleep with Sybil and in fact turns down her request that he murder her husband. On release and moping about at home, the normal course of events for a Roth novel are restored. Simon is visited by Pegeen, the daughter of a mutual friend and a lesbian, but not now she's met Simon, even though he's 25 years her senior! Pegeen's lover Louise, also her boss at the college where she teaches, is understandably upset and tells all to Pegeen's parents, who were unaware of her previous sexual orientation and now must deal not only with this but the fact she's now having an affair with the much older Simon and wants to have his child.
Simon and Pegeen act upon a fantasy to have a threesome, affecting the dynamic of their affair which Pegeen then breaks off. This, in essence, is Simon's humbling.
This is the first duffer I've read from Roth; even his usual fluid prose, still present, can't save it. His late work usually teeters on the brink of descending into dirty old man fantasies but sadly this one oversteps the line without the saving grace of having his protagonist raging eloquently against his failing body and the dying of the light as in Everyman and The Human Stain. both superior 21st century Roth.
At less than 4 hours, I'm afraid it smacks of "will this do?" and suggests Roth, now 78 and still churning out a book a year might be well advised to slow down and focus on quality, not quantity.