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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel you don't so much read as engage in battle with.
This is the first Philip Roth novel I read, and I haven't been able to read any more since in case none of them are as good. Sabbath's Theater is a dangerous, exhilirating, outrage-inducing read. It demands concentration and engagement, and rewards with an intellectual and emotional honesty rarely found in modern fiction. Mickey Sabbath is by turns profoundly wise,...
Published on 18 May 2000

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars 'The Human Stain' is one of my all time favourite novels: I think I bore my friends by ...
I am an enthusiastic fan of Roth's work. 'The Human Stain' is one of my all time favourite novels: I think I bore my friends by rabbiting on about its worth. But 'Sabbath's Theater' failed to work for me. It still has Roth's usual 'in your face' style but it is just too repetitive and page after page deals with the same theme. OK. it's about sex... but anything else? It...
Published 16 days ago by ABL


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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A novel you don't so much read as engage in battle with., 18 May 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
This is the first Philip Roth novel I read, and I haven't been able to read any more since in case none of them are as good. Sabbath's Theater is a dangerous, exhilirating, outrage-inducing read. It demands concentration and engagement, and rewards with an intellectual and emotional honesty rarely found in modern fiction. Mickey Sabbath is by turns profoundly wise, utterly execrable, and uproariously, devilishly, humanly funny. I defy anyone not to feel a guilty elation of recognition at the whole scene of crying and duplicity in Mickey's friend's apartment. The first line of the novel is a masterpiece of an opening - the roaming, desperate energy of the entire book and a landscape view of the plot all crammed into less than ten words. The perfectly crafted shock of the last lines is like a piledriver in the chest. And everything that's in between is a revelation. Whether you're a man or a woman, DO NOT read this book unless you are prepared to be a) offended and outraged, and b) humbled and educated. Or, on the other hand, just read it anyway.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Darkly Comic Masterpiece of Complexity, 16 Dec 2002
This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
In Sabbath's Theater, Philip Roth finally showed us he could write a book in which neither Philip Roth nor his thinly-veiled stand-in, Nathan Zuckerman, made an appearance.
The theme of Sabbath's Theater has been done before: a lecherous, unconventional man railing at the ravages of time and the dwindling of the sexual potency by which he has defined his very existence. Most of the time, however, this theme is poorly written, the characters trite and cliched. Roth, not surprisingly, invests this novel with more lyrical energy, more sexual frankness, sharper comedy and deeper seriousness than has any writer before.
Although Roth does make use of both flashback and association, the plot of Sabbath's Theater is brisk. Mickey Sabbath, who went off to sea at the age of eighteen just so he could visit the world's brothels, is a loathsome character. His abiding philosophy of life is simply to do whatever he pleases and never to worry about pleasing anyone else. Nothing phases him, in fact, he seems to take pleasure in his uncanny ability to antagonize others. Their outrage seems to be only a reflection of his own self-worth. Mickey Sabbath manages to hurt, deceive, betray, offend, insult and abuse just about everyone with whom he comes into contact.
A true degenerate, Mickey Sabbath may seem to lack any sense of moral conscience. Although anyone meeting such a character would deny it, Sabbath actually spent an idyllic childhood on the Jersey shore; a childhood that was shattered by a traumatic dual loss. In an effort to deal with his loss and the resultant pain, to stamp out the brutality of life, and, to affirm his own sense of aliveness, Sabbath turns to carnal pleasures with a vengeance, indulging each and every sexual impulse.
Even as Sabbath indulges his crasser nature, however, and casts a satirical eye on those who deny their sensual impulses, he still endeavors to understand himself and the workings of the universe. In fact, much of the novel's comic pathos is derived from the tension that exists between Sabbath's base nature and his lechery and his seemingly incomprehensible yearning for cosmic illumination.
There is a lot of graphic sex in Sabbath's Theater and most readers will probably find it simply too perverse. I did not enjoy reading this book, and, although I think I understand Mickey Sabbath, I have to admit that I hated him. He suffers, that cannot be denied, but he is simply so perverse, and his behavior so amoral, that I really didn't care.
To be fair, I do have to admit that the perversity in this book did enhance and advance my understanding of Mickey Sabbath and the conflicts in which he is embroiled. And Philip Roth is certainly better at creating degenerate, or at least morally ambivalent characters, than he is at creating the lofty or the solemn. His "good" characters are simply too good to be true, while Sabbath, much as we may despise him, is completely credible. He may be despicable and perverted, but at least he knows it.
The writing in Sabbath's Theater is absolutely first-rate; it is pure Philip Roth and it crackles with more energy and exuberance than Portnoys' Complaint. The characters are more complex, the narrative more sophisticated and the tonal range wider than many of Roth's other works. The ending of the book virtually drips with irony. This is a multi-layered novel and one that is brilliantly original. It also contains some of the funniest writing to be found anywhere in American fiction today. Sabbath's Theater is, at its heart, a darkly comic masterpiece of complexity from one of America's finest authors. But it is simply too perverse for most readers to enjoy.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scurrilous and bawdy, 19 July 2012
This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
Perhaps it's not the right thing to do, but it's unavoidable that I'll end up comparing the book I'm reading to the one I've just read. And just having had Jonathan Franzen being endlessly worthy with `Freedom', it was a great relief to leap in and find the remaining great old man of American letters, Phillip Roth, be truly scurrilous and bawdy with `Sabbath's Theater'. This - for all its brilliance - is not a book to be taught in schools, or to be spoken about in hushed tones at posh dinner parties as the kind of thing `people' should read. No, for all the excellence of its prose and savagery of language (no one writes like Roth when he's on form), this is a book which wants to get down and dirty, and revel in it.

Mickey Sabbath is a randy old goat, a sex obsessed one-time puppeteer whose hands have been crippled by arthritis. Before the book even begins he's already been involved in a couple of sex scandals (the most recent with one of his pupils who was barely more than a teenager) and now the death of his married mistress has sent him into a tale-spin. Sabbath is off to attack the world, and with his articulate rage and refusal to compromise, no prisoners will be taken.

What really stands out is how ridiculously and rudely funny this book is. Roth is able to derive humour from the most appalling and unappetising situations (for example, who would imagine you could get laughs from descriptions of a sixty-four year old pervert tearing apart the bedroom of the nineteen year old daughter of one of his good friends, just so he can find something to arouse himself with). The character of Sabbath is an emotional whirlwind, someone it would be truly damaging to know, but great to meet on the safe distance of the printed page. The book perhaps lacks some of the focus of the absolute best of Roth, but this is still a rip-roaring ride - although not one I'd recommend as a present to a maiden aunt.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Mix Of The Bawdy And The Profound, 13 April 2012
By 
Keith M - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
In his 1995 novel Sabbath's Theater, Philip Roth once again demonstrates that he has few (if any) equals among modern novelists when it comes to the ability to morph profanity into profundity, and, in this work, he does it in such an apparently effortless manner which leaves this reader mightily impressed. In my recollection, not since the days of Henry Miller 60 years ago has a writer produced such an exhilarating and unexpurgated tale of debauchery as does Roth in this magnificent and explosive work. In Roth, we are, of course, talking about the author who achieved global literary notoriety with his similarly extravagant and sexually explicit 1969 novel Portnoy's Complaint - a compelling novel in its own right, but one which, for me, Roth has probably surpassed with Sabbath's Theater.

The novel is narrated in flashback by 64-year old ex-puppeteer and (still) sex-obsessed Mickey Sabbath, and takes us (in loving detail) through the fractious and turbulent journey of Sabbath's various lives and loves. Roth is typically uncompromising in creating what is essentially a loathsome hero, one who has embarked on a succession of adulterous relationships, whilst spurning two marriages and apparently betraying just about every friendship that ever came the way of anti-hero Sabbath. But, gradually as the tale unfolds, it becomes apparent that there are facets to this abomination that are not wholly repugnant, none more than Sabbath's underlying maternal love and his hero-worship for his soldier brother Morty, sadly lost fighting the Japanese in 1944 whilst Mickey was still only a teenager.

The concluding sections of the novel, where Mickey negotiates potential sites for his own burial plot and where he happens upon a lost centenarian cousin, thereby finding another route for communicating with the memories of his long-lost brother, are particularly affecting and poignant.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Roth the Magnificent, 11 Feb 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
Is life just a tale told by an idiot signifying nothing? Waht else is there but sex and death? Mickey Sabbath rages against the dying of the light by indulging in sexual excesses. Roth writes brilliantly about male sexuality. Believe me, some of my Sunday league soccer team would do Mickey proud (I exaggerate only slightly). Roth's novels are consistently honest, energetic and filled with clear-sighted intelligence. More! More!
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3.0 out of 5 stars 'The Human Stain' is one of my all time favourite novels: I think I bore my friends by ..., 13 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Kindle Edition)
I am an enthusiastic fan of Roth's work. 'The Human Stain' is one of my all time favourite novels: I think I bore my friends by rabbiting on about its worth. But 'Sabbath's Theater' failed to work for me. It still has Roth's usual 'in your face' style but it is just too repetitive and page after page deals with the same theme. OK. it's about sex... but anything else? It appears not.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sabbath's Theatre, 7 Dec 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Hardcover)
A truly enthralling book.
After stumbling across Phillip Roth by accident, this is the fourth of his books that I've read (Human Stain, Portnoy's Complaint, and American Pastoral are the others). While the other three are all (mostly) excellent, this is the one I enjoyed the most...
Highly recommended!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars highly brilliant, 3 Oct 2010
This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
There are serious themes here: Sabbath has not covered from the death of his brother 40 years ago (nor, ever, did his mother); his first wife does not recover from the death of her mother (and disappears and Sabbath also does not recover from that); his second wife cannot come to terms with the death of her father. And the novel starts and ends with the death from cancer of Sabbath's long-time mistress. And he spends the second half asking "to be or not be" just in case we've missed the point. He also visits a funeral and buys a funeral plot.

But this is not how the book is constructed; and it comes as a shock to realise on reflecton that maybe this is what it's about. Such is the brilliance of its construction.

To the reader, we witness simply Sabbath moving through the world, troubled by memories of set piece acts of outrage in the past (or not troubled by them) and committing ongoing acts of outrage in the present with his "indecent theatre", the set pieces are highly memorable. And the outrages to normal civilised behaviour communicate themselves vividly to the reader. There is also occasional comedy: for example, an unforgettable note from Sabbath to his wife in rehab purportedly a letter from her dead father recounting a counselling session with Satan...
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5.0 out of 5 stars a riveting surprise -every page, 10 Jun 2014
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This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Kindle Edition)
It was not what I expected. I was totally engrossed in a character who seems despicable yet he charms and fascinates and seduces you into reading . Sexy, sad and absurd.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary achievement, 7 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Sabbath's Theater (Paperback)
This is a brilliant book. We are seduced into sympathy for , and complicity with, a character whose amoral activities we would certainly deplore in real life. Very funny and a great read.
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Sabbath's Theater
Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth (Paperback - 5 Sep 1996)
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