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The Humbling Hardcover – 29 Oct 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 140 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (29 Oct. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224087932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224087933
  • Product Dimensions: 13.6 x 1.8 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 373,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In 1997, Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He has twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians' Prize for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003-2004". Recently Roth received PEN's two most prestigious prizes: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. Roth is the only living American writer to have his work published in a comprehensive, definitive edition by the Library of America.

Product Description


Siobhan Murphy, `Roth's late prodigious burst of creativity continues'. --Metro

Jason Cowley: `Roth ...knows no limits, which is part of the fun of reading him.' --New Statesmen

`We're Reading, `adds to his reputation as one of American literature's greats' --Times

'...these little masterpieces are coming out once a year, if not faster' --Literary Review

`His most savage and unrelenting work yet ... (Roth) has lost neither his voice nor his power to shock' --Sunday Herald

"witty and provocative" --Daily Mail

`Roth scores a palpable hit'

`the great man of American literature still flashes with brilliance.' --Sunday Express

`told with the customary subtle, spare and beautiful prose that is Roth's mark' --The Tablet

`wonderful touches'
--Sunday Times

Book Description

Another brilliant short novel by Philip Roth

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By The Outsider on 11 Nov. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
For those of us who have read most, if not all, Philip Roth, the Humbling is not much more than a novella or three part short story about the humbling of 20th century men - first by self doubt and collapse of vitality, then by love, and finally by the tragic realisation that life and love are transitory. Roth chooses another reflection of himself - Simon Axler - an extrovert actor, not an introvert writer (who both live the lives of hermits!) - to be his protagonist. Women often skewer Roth as a sexist male, but he writes intimately from his own, male perspective as well as anyone.This book is guaranteed to offend the feminists, as Axler's nemesis is a younger lesbian who manipulates and uses him (and others) that he has known since birth.Much has been made of the sex scenes in the book, and they are particularly well written. Roth is obsessed by sex and death, and so is the story.

Though fluent and spare, the prose is involving. It's really a 70 page book and can be read in one sitting with ease. Roth has evolved a new style, part Hemingway and part old Roth, and there are few writers in English who can match him. Let the Nobel honour the unread Armenian and little known Cambodian poets - I'll take Roth, slim or fat, bare boned or brawny.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Paperback writer on 28 Oct. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Now, don't get me wrong. I am a MASSIVE Roth fan, but I've now read this novella through twice and still feel the same way: It's a bit, well, disappointing.

Yes, the plot is typically Rothian - old man, young woman, sex, disappointment, death. Yes, there are some spectacular shots at erotica and yes, the pace of the narrative holds no prisoners, but it just feels like a first draft, kind of empty and rushed and therefore a little shallow. From a hundred other authors I daresay it would be an accomplishment, but not from Roth. To be totally fair, the speed of the narrative can easily trick you into thinking it's exciting, placing it in the "sizzling page-turner" genre, but Roth is much more than that.

Sorry Philip. When's the next one out?
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By Erin Britton on 15 Oct. 2013
Format: Paperback
Reclusive, introverted author Philip Roth is reclusive, extroverted sexagenarian actor Simon Axler in The Humbling, the latest book from the elder statesman of American literature. Axler had been the finest stage actor of his generation but, after giving disastrous performances as Macbeth and Prospero at the Kennedy Center, realised that his acting mojo had forsaken him and, without really knowing it, he had become a pitiable ham. Vowing never to tread the boards again, Axler spiralled into depression and rarely left the house. Unfortunately for him, his wife Victoria was still quite capable of leaving and promptly packed her bags and moved to California. Completely alone and certain that he will never act again, Axler decided turn his shotgun on himself, but found that he that was not even capable of playing the role of a suicide.

Of course this is Philip Roth [and one of his various literary personas] that we are talking about and so The Humbling quickly ventures into far more peculiar territory. Sometime after his failed suicide attempt, Axler is visited by Pegeen Stapleford, the forty-year-old lesbian daughter of actors that Axler has worked with in the past. Pegeen had recently taken up a teaching post at the local university and is newly single after ending her relationship of six years when her partner decided to transition to become a man. Now, Axler may have lost his acting ability but his seduction skills must be second to none since, before you can even say bi-curious, he and Pegeen are shacking up together. The Humbling then takes shape as an confused odyssey of love, loss, talent, despair and three-ways.

The Humbling is not classic Philip Roth.
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Format: Hardcover
This short novel has everything you'd expect from Philip Roth, sharp and concise prose, self-examination, intelligent observation, but somehow it just doesn't hit the heights I would want it to.

Simon Axler, (and I have to assume that at least to a degree he is supposed to be Roth) is an ageing stage actor who suddenly finds that he can't act anymore. His heart isn't in it. He has lost all faith in himself.

He attempts to commit suicide and checks himself into a psychiatric hospital to recover. Upon his release he enters into a relationship with, Peegan, the daughter of two old friends, despite her having just come out of a long lesbian relationship. For a time this looks as if it may go some way to redeem him, but his sexual desires and paranoia push her away.

For a book that deals with emotion the tone is cold and distant, with a lot of reported speech and very little real feeling on show. For much of the narrative it feels as if he sleep-walked his way through it. 'The Humbling' gives the impression of a writer of great skill who is only in third gear.

The uncomfortable impression I had during the reading, and one that I could never really shake, was of listening in on an old man's sexual fantasies, mixed with his concerns about whether his creative skills are diminishing. The irony being this book came at a time when Roth was being particularly productive, and that 'The Humbling' may well represent one book too far.

It deals with familiar topics of death, old age, sex and how we measure success; but he never seems to be doing more than turning over old ground here. There is nothing new or surprising in this novel, all is much as you would expect and with an author of Roth's stature and skill this counts as a disappointment.
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