Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Counterlife [1986]

The Counterlife was both a continuation of and departure from the Nathan Zuckerman saga that Roth had established until then through the rapturous Zuckerman Bound trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson) – the Jewish-American diaspora, Carnovsky, and ironic exploration of Nathan’s, and in turn Roth’s self-conflicting attempts to break free while still being bound. Roth, however, essentially used the protagonist, his story, and his position as a stand-in for his own self, to touch upon a divergent array of subjects ranging from Israel-Palestine conflict and Zionism to familial differences and marital woes, and, meta-fictionally, his own role as an author. The novel finally boiled down to the shifting nature of truth and reality, and the idea of impersonation and role-playing as an integral aspect of human existence – aspects which were realized through the audacity of a formalist and the gleeful smirk of a prankster. The book begins innocuously with Nathan’s estranged brother Henry, suffering from an embarrassing consequence of medication for heart condition, impudently opting for surgery, and dying in the process; in a bravura display of deadpan wit, Henry is shown, in the next episode, to have survived the surgery – but, as a reverse side-effect, he has become a zealot and has shifted to the West Bank; Nathan’s visit there seemed a fascinating combine of Bellow’s To Jerusalem and Back and Henry Bech’s trip to the ‘Holy Land’ in Updike’s Bech is Back. As made amply clear, multiple versions of events are chronicled through a beguiling mix of continuations and alterations – Nathan marrying and tentatively settling down in Gloucestershire; getting stuck with a lunatic who may be planning to blow up the flight from Tel Aviv to London (a hilarious short chapter worthy of short story in itself); and, in finally keeping with the novel’s overarching theme, the possibility of everything being figments of Nathan’s imaginations and fantasies. Vociferously argumentative and rambling in its narrative, this is a book which had Roth at his most ingenuous, digressive and petulant.

Author: Philip Roth
Genre: Drama/Political Drama/Marital Drama/Social Satire/Modernist Literature
Language: English
Country: US

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