3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
We should all be so lucky to have a quote from Milan Kundera adorning the front cover of a novel - to wit: 'Philip Roth is a great historian of modern eroticism'. Well, he should know.
Over on the back cover, an anonymous blurb says of this 1977 near-masterpiece: 'There is great beauty in it, humanity and tenderness.' Too true. Melvyn Bragg's comment is the equally accurate: 'His prose is both elegant and furious. It can be witty, tender and brutal in a single paragraph.'
That last sentence is so right, some passages in this novel (the second of his three books about priapic Literature professor David Kepesh) performing a verbal balancing act so virtuosic as to leave the greedy reader exhausted, or at least, appropriately enough for what is at times a fairly explicit erotic novel, sated.
The women Kepesh meets, loves, loses, longs for, and lusts after are all written as richly as the men, their voices resonantly heard, and this is no male chauvinist fantasy - though I'll bet some critics saw it as such forty-odd years ago. Another reviewer here has called the style of the book 'stream of consciousness', a description I would question. It makes it sound either Joycean or like a Kerouacian ramble, neither of which is really the case. It's more that, as so often, Roth seems to be writing at a white-hot pace, idea, character and occurence tumbling over each other in prose of such potency and energy as to seem - well, as I said, exhausting.
Roth puts his readers through the mill. He did it in, say, The Human Stain and he does it here. It's as if he's chasing elusive truths, hunting down half-glimpsed verities through the medium of a relentlessly uncompromising prose, so we are carried along, often breathlessly, into whichever areas of his characters' lives he needs to dissect and probe at any given moment.
I have no doubt at all that Philip Roth is one of the twentieth century's greatest writers, and certainly one of America's two or three finest. At full throttle he takes my breath away simply by the force of his prose and the recognition and revelation of truths - not always comfortable ones - his writing uncovers.
We are taken on a journey at once physical, geographical, erotic and emotional, through the life of Kepesh up to his mid-thirties, from his early delighted sexual discoveries to his later loves, none of which bring him lasting happiness, but all of which act as a kind of rite of passage, albeit a messy one (in both senses of the word).
There are no easy solutions or conclusions (this is a novel after all: perish the thought) and one of Roth's attributes as a writer is his willingness to explore and question - it's no accident that Chekhov and Kafka figure so much in this novel's narrative - rather than explain or offer answers.
I found reading this book an exhilarating experience, as I usually do with Roth, being disappointed only by the oddly inscrutable last three lines of its final sentence...
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2014
Because I am a sucker for Roth and his innate intoxicating understanding of the human condition. I never question a single moment of any character he chooses to create. The potent character of Dr Kepesh, like an ex lover lingers still. I long to go back, know more, feel more, understand more.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 3 February 2001
I have read most of Philip Roth's books and I come to each one with a feeling of dread that this time, maybe he won't live up to my ever climbing expectations. This book is however, as ever, truly exceptional. Deceptively simple, a story of one man and his relationships it manages to ring true and bring a depth to the characters, events and thoughts it raises that few other recent books I have read can match. Well no other philip roth books actually. Read it and enjoy.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 28 November 2008
Written in 1977, this is the second book by Philip Roth featuring David Kepesh, here a young man who is starting his career as a literature professor. As he pursues different women in different continents, the question always in his mind is if he should settle for marriage and love or for sex without commitment. A side trip to Prague is not only a homage to Kafka but one of the best passages of the book. By the next installment of Kepesh in the Dying Animal, written almost a quarter century later, he is a man in his sixties, who has chosen to live without a commitment and therefore now feels lonely and vulnerable to young women. Roth's stream of consciousness style is sometimes infuriating but often illuminating about the conflict between love and desire after the sexual revolution. Reading Roth can help you develop a quite realistic understanding of many aspects of the contemporary world, even if you find such aspects quite appalling.