Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Ghost Writer [1979]

Though Roth’s literary alter-ego Nathan Zuckerman made his first appearance in My Life as a Man, The Ghost Writer, the first part of a trilogy which went on to be called ‘Zuckerman Bound’ (which also comprised of Zuckerman Unbound and The Anatomy Lesson, along with an epilogue titled The Prague Orgy), is generally considered, for all practical purposes, as the character’s debut appearance. The character would go on to appear in 5 more of his novels. The short novel, which had been selected by the Pulitzer committee as their selection but was subsequently overruled by the Pulitzer Board in favour of Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song (it was a runner-up for the National Book Award as well, in this case to Styron’s Sophie’s Choice), was filled with a fascinating array of thematic delving – Jewish-American landscape, anti-Semite persecutions, an artist’s relationship with his art, search for identity, complexity of human relationships, and love of the Great Books – beautifully packed into its crisp length (both in terms of pages and the tale’s temporal arc) thanks to Roth’s powerful voice, confessional style, and fluid prose that seamlessly alternated between wry humour and quiet melancholia. Set in a suburban location over the course of less than 24 hours, it comprised of three key actors – Zuckerman, a young writer of great promise who’s in love with the Great Books, in a moral crisis on account of a book that he’s penned that has earned the wrath of his father for its deprecatory portrayal of Jews, and the narrator; E.I. Lonoff, a renowned, middle-aged, married and reclusive writer who Zuckerman idolizes, and in whose house the story unfolds; and Amy Bellette, a young, delicate, enigmatic and ravishingly alluring Holocaust survivor who’s in a rather tricky relationship with the elderly Lonoff, and whose past, as Zuckerman suspects, might well be a sly reprise of The Diary of Anne Frank. The book, that refused to be straightjacketed by generic trappings despite being, simultaneously, political commentary, black comedy, social satire, marital drama, and the beginning of a bildungsroman, was tantalizing, delightful and even tad disconcerting.

Author: Philip Roth
Genre: Drama/Black Comedy/Social Satire/Bildungsroman
Language: English
Country: US

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