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Every word counts.
These are the essential ingredients of The Humbling, a riveting, unflinching novel by Philip Roth, America's greatest living novelist. Many eminent writers Roth's age (76) have long since settled into the role of the polite, genteel elder statesman. Not Roth. His books still sizzle with raw emotions and stark language which possess the power to shock and enthrall listeners. This decade alone, Roth has produced one startling masterpiece after another. The Plot Against America and Everyman stand out in particular. Add The Humbling near the top of this elite list of remarkable books.
Written in a commanding, powerful voice, this compact novel revolves around acting legend Simon Axler, who has suddenly lost his ability to act. "instead of the certainty that he was going to be wonderful, he knew he was going to fail," the narrator intones. Axler's mysterious, artistic paralysis leads to the dissolution of his marriage and lands him in a psychiatric hospital. There he meets Sybil Van Buren, a suburban housewife suffering from the effects of accidentally uncovering a disturbing family secret. But soon after leaving the hospital, another woman, Pegeen Stapleford, plays a more prominent role in the daily drama of Axler's life. The grown daughter of Axler's longtime friends, Pegeen ignites dormant desires in Axler and introduces more exotic ones he didn't even know existed inside him producing dramatic consequences in "the last act", Roth writes, as if the novel were a play.
That's actually the best way to approach this book, as if it's a classic, three-act play. And the audio version of The Humbling perfectly captures the book's theatrical quality and illustrates the dramatic power of Roth's writing. Listening to the book, Roth's simple, elegant sentences flow seamlessly from one line to the next.
And like any great script, it takes a great actor to bring a writer's words to life. Luckily, Dick Hill was chosen to narrate The Humbling, and he delivers an astounding performance. He reads each word with conviction, transforming the people on the page into full-throated, three-dimensional characters. You truly believe the rush of chaotic feelings and emotions Axler and the other characters experience throughout the novel. Hill makes every syllable ring true, like a great, booming stage actor reciting the pitch-perfect dialogue of Chekhov or Shakespeare.
ironically, the book revolves around Axler's sudden inability to convincingly portray characters in these same classic works. Fortunately for us, Roth retains the power to tap into his own deep, creative well and magically emerge again and again with another artistic milestone. Ken Ross
Into this shattering account of inexplicable and terrifying self-evacuation bursts a counterplot of unusual erotic desire, a consolation for the bereft life so risky and aberrant that it points not toward comfort and gratification but to a yet darker and more shocking end. In this long day's journey into night, told with Roth's inimitable urgency, bravura, and gravity, all the ways that we persuade ourselves of our solidity, all our life's performances - talent, love, sex, hope, energy, reputation - are stripped off.
Following the dark meditations on mortality and endings in Everyman and Exit Ghost, and the bitterly ironic retrospective on youth and chance in Indignation, Roth has written another in his haunting group of late novels.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Darwin8u on 01-13-17
A Self-Indulgent Roth
"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
By marnie on 01-28-11
Dick Hill destroys The Humbling
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
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Kevin Loughlin on 05-30-18
my first audio book... not bad but I felt the story was a bit slight. I like how Roth creates the world of the story and how he explores our inner worlds but for me it was a little grey n dull. well read though.
By Karin Engebretsen on 10-30-14
A weak book.
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.