on 8 September 2013
This brief novel was one that I found poignant and irresistibly compelling. Set in 1951 with the spectre of the distant Korean War overshadowing events, Marcus Messner is a 19 year old sophomore from Newark. A good Jewish boy, and the only child in a family of butchers, he is desperate to escape the cloying claustrophobia yet well meant concerns of his somewhat neurotic father - whose greatest fear is that his son, so clever and full of promise, will do something to land himself in immense danger. After his first year, Marcus switches from his local New Jersey college to a conservative former seminary, Winesburg, out in distant Mid-Western Ohio.
Determined to avoid social frivolities, work hard at his studies and graduate as Valedictorian, the plan is to make sure he gets drafted as an officer in the Intelligence Corps, rather than as a misfortunate Private in the front line. And so, much to his consternation, and accompanied in his head by the Chinese national anthem's dramatic intonation of "In-dig-na-tion, in-dig-na-tion", Marcus' troubles begin... Unable to settle in with his room-mates, unwilling to join in with fraternity life, and unprepared for falling in love with the beguiling and complex Olivia Hutton - the once suicidal and hospitalised 'blow-job princess'- the 'expert'; he struggles to refrain from walking away from it all and heading back to Newark. What with Winesburg's compulsory chapel attendance, the Dean of Men making him physically sick, and the cigar-chomping Republican college President, at least back home he'd only have his father to make his life a misery!
But this is no simple coming-of-age tale, or rite of passage story. Roth's great skill lies with disguising the difficult and the thought-provoking as a basic story, familiar to many of us. There is a cruel twist here that I won't mention, but when it came I was at once both fascinated and saddened. The wonderfully rich portrayal of Marcus' parents is in itself a study of what love means.
After first enjoying Philip Roth when I was about the same age as the young protagonist here (I loved 'Goodbye Columbus'), I'm really enjoying an unplanned for rediscovery of his books in the last year or so. After previously giving 'Zuckerman Unbound' the full five stars, I plan on completing the whole 'Zuckerman Bound' series in due course.
on 31 March 2011
Roth fans will find little to surprise them in this short novel. All the usual ingredients are here - a pinch of sexual frustration a la 'Portnoy's Complaint', the blue-collar Dads and meticulous attention to their work as per just about every other Roth novel I can think of, the New Jersey origins of the central character - but that doesn't make it any less of a pleasure. Indeed, 'Indignation' is far and away my favourite of the 'Nemeses' short novels, beating 'Nemesis' by a nose, 'Everyman' by a couple of feet, and 'The Humbling' by a country mile.
There's a certain kind of coldness to Roth's writing about the ravages of old age (see 'Exit Ghost', 'The Humbling', 'Everyman') but in focusing on a young, doomed protagonist in 'Indignation' we get a lyrical, if wistful nostalgia that's often bittersweet, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Witness the narrator's reaction to his unexpected... erm... oral encounter, and his automatic assumption that she must be mentally damaged in some way. The fact that this turns out to be kind of true doesn't make his sudden, and slightly hypocritical prudishness any less amusing.
I kind of wish I could give 'Indignation' five stars, and I would have done if I were measuring it against only the other Nemeses novels. However, Roth has also given us 'American Pastoral' (one of my favourite all-time novels), 'The Plot Against America', and 'The Human Stain'. His recent work (except, perhaps, The Humbling, which I hated) is impressive, especially given his age, but these novels are still minor works compared to his output in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Still... None of them outstay their welcome. Even 'The Humbling' can (mercifully) be read in one sitting. And in the case of 'Indignation' and 'Nemeses', they're an absolute pleasure to read, however ultimately tragic their subject matter might be.
on 20 November 2008
While this may not rank against the American trilogy this is nevertheless a masterpiece. The writing is faultless and the narrative is constantly engaging. Above all Roth is, as ever, capable of creating a state of mind that is coherent and compelling.
on 17 October 2008
The isn't, of course, the only Roth novel that will still be read in 50 years time, but its brevity and accessibility might make it one of the most popular. A young Jewish student is crushed between his upbringing, his intellect and life at a provincial college. Meanwhile, The Korean War, the humanist's hell, waits for him to fail. Oh yes, make no mistake, this is certainly grim stuff but Indignation is also full of humour with some genuinely hilarious moments. Work that one out. Better still, read this marvellous, short novel at one sitting. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
This is one of Philip Roth's best novels, the funny and poignant story of a young man's journey to adulthood in the 1950s. Although short, it manages to pack so much in - stifling mid-Western conformity, New Jersey Jewishness, first love and the horrors of war. It is a shame the critics now take Roth for granted because he is so prolific.He is still at the top of his game.
on 5 November 2009
This is a poignant and compelling novel on a young man getting of age in the early 1950's. Several themes impact the reader in a very strong way: the cultural difference between the East Coast and the mid-West, the clash between atheism and religious beliefs and the difficulties between two generations to understand each other. Furthermore the tense relationship between a father and his son are very interesting as are the different characters that will intertwine in the Ohio university campus.
The greatness of this novel lies in the fact that the author goes directly to the point and focuses on the feelings of his characters; it reminded me of books I red by Coetzee that have the same power to get the attention of the reader. Thank you very much for such a powerful book Mr. Roth, I will remember this novel for a long time.
This late (2008) Roth finds the man at the height of his literary powers. Indignation’s short, but deceptively expansive, tale of Korean war-era, Jewish, atheist, Newark student Marcus Messner and his frustrations with adolescence (parents, college authorities, girlfriend, room-mates, religion, politics, etc) provides a compelling and thought-provoking 'state-of-the-nation’ snapshot of Roth’s home country, as well as delivering a poignant, touching coming-of-age story imbued with themes of chance, fate and paranoia.
Here, Roth has created some particularly engaging (and rather worrying) authority figures, from Marcus’ butcher father, his college dean and the Republican college president, whose fears and paranoia around the threat of war, communism and liberalism provoke Marcus’ own fateful thoughts of being drafted (there is a feel here as if Roth might be saying ‘nothing’s really changed in the intervening 60 years’). Roth’s prose here, whilst still maintaining its compelling, creative sense, is (arguably) as simple and easy-to-read as its ever been, making Indignation the sort of work that can be devoured in a handful of sittings. It comes highly recommended.
"Indignation" follows college student Marcus Messner as he struggles against his overprotective father to establish his own life, identity and place in the world. Roth writes Marcus as a lively and engaging narrator and conversations and descriptions that could have become banal and repetitive leap off the page here to entertain and amuse. This is Philip Roth at his most accessible and readable and there is no doubt that this book is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
As usual, I have a slight pause for thought in Roth's depiction of female characters and sexuality. I appreciate that I am a female reader, and that Roth is male and writes from a man's point of view, but "Indignation" again shows this author failing to properly capture the sexuality of women, somehow.
Nevertheless, this short novel is great fun: playful, satirical, cruel in places and thoroughly entertaining. The pace never sags and even though the plot and characters are relatively straightforward, this is still a very complelling story and one I very much enjoyed.
on 23 September 2008
Some are suggesting that Roth has become too prolific, with the implication that quality begins to dip, but Indignation refutes that. This is a tightly written, evocative and moving novel. It's the story of Marcus Messner, a young man dealing with an overbearing father and the strangeness of moving away to college, set as America is fighting the Korean War. Messner is also dead and from this vantage point, he is reviewing his short life. Such a device can be clumsy or silly, but Roth employs it to incredible effect. The characters are all vivid and memorable (the scene between Messner and the dean of men is a wonderful example) and the narrative is beautifully structured.
At the denouement, when Roth's purpose comes into final focus, I was left with the feeling of having experienced something simple and wise and powerful. I can't recommend this novel highly enough.
on 26 September 2008
I got this yesterday afternoon, I finished it this morning at four. It's simply great. It is, as the title of another review has it, a novel about "the way one's most banal, incidental, even comical choices achieve the most disproportionate result." In this respect it resembles Milan Kundera's best novels. But it also is a novel about a bunch of complex, realistic characters, and about an important piece of History of the 20th century, and even more about the sincere, intelligent, passionate, and yet frustrated efforts of the protagonist to understand all that: History, people, and the way our choices can influence them.