on 8 October 2008
I'm a complete newcomer to Philip Roth and picked this up on impulse in a second-hand bookshop (sorry amazon!). I loved it from start to finish and would recommend it to anyone, young, old, male or female, but with a few caveats. Firstly if you are coming new to it as I did, you might be surprised by the, shall we say frank-ness of the writing. I'm no prude but I was cringing as much as laughing during some of the more extreme passages. That a book written 40 years ago still has the power to shock is something - that its still worth reading and not just a passing fad is something else. Also, if you are at all familar with the tv show Curb Your Enthusiasm, it may be difficult not to read the whole book aloud in Larry David's voice inside your head; its very very Larry, and I suspect might have been a partial inspiration for his character on that show. Which is to say that it says a lot about being a modern Jewish male, with all the glories and hang-ups that (apparently) brings. Above all it manages to be enthralling without being remotely plot-driven and profound without being pretentious or heavy. Well done Mr Roth!
on 26 October 2007
First, please do not be put off by the reviewer who states this book does not hold up in 2007. It does.
I read this book about 6 months ago and could not put it down. It's hysterically funny, it will make you cringe, and yes, even in 2007, it will shock you.
I've never written a review on Amazon before, but when I saw that someone had only given this book one star I had to give me opinion!! I'm not the world's biggest Phillip Roth fan by any stretch, but I read Portnoy's Complaint after I came accross it in a second hand book shop. It's clearly completely self-indulgent on Roth's part, but why not? In this case self-indulgence makes it all the more engaging and enjoyable to read. You will want to slap Portnoy accross the face, but you'll also want to see just exactly what idiotic and disgraceful things he'll do next.
Read this, you won't regret it!
on 27 October 2000
Alexander portnoy details his life to the reader with wit and brilliance every step of the way. From his diatribes against his overbearing Jewish parents and growing up in the closed-mideness of Newark; to details of his grimmest and most filthy sexual encounters and fantasies. Portnoy's Complaint is a fantastically funny book about one mans urge to fulfill himself against all odds that heave been put in place against him due to an Oedipus complex and a need to be on the moral highground. Anyone who has read Philip Roth before will enjpoy this book, anyone who hasn't will find this a good starting point.
My only criticism lies in the sometimes long-winded descriptions of various stages of his adolescence and life - while although these are often funny,; they give the book a sluggish quality it otherwise would not possess.
On the whole, however, a good read and very, very funny.
on 17 November 2008
Alexander Portnoy is thirty three, reluctantly Jewish and confessing his life to his psychoanalyst, from being a five-year-old mother's boy, through formative years as a gifted student to his current status as New York's Assistant Commissioner of Human Opportunity.
Alex's is a life overshadowed by the memories of his parents smothering him with their expectations and cloying Jewish heritage. Poppa Jack is a modestly successful insurance salesman, but because he is the only Jew in the branch he gets the worst clientele and has to work doubly hard for his return. Momma Sophie wants to be just enough of a cut above her contemporaries for it to be noticeable, whilst she runs their home as the archetypal Jewish mother. Alex's early recollections capture the essence of growing up in Newark during the Second World War, as part of a family that runs the full gamut of experiences from anti-semitism to cousin Heshie dying on the Normandy beaches.
From the opening lines, Alexander whips his story along at racing speed, incisive and outrageously funny, completely besotted with his own burgeoning sexuality which Roth portrays in language that was condemned at the time and is no less abrupt today. No experience is spared his detailed remembrance and one wonders at the shear variety and energy required to sustain it.
Through the growing up and the frustrations and the awakening and the simply doing of it all, his constant fear of being exposed by his parents as a degenerate haunts his every thought whilst driving him on to do it again and again, and again. As Alex says to his confessor, "So I have desires - only they're endless. Endless!".
It is a compelling read and very, very funny.
on 4 September 2008
This was the second book by Roth that I have read, after Everyman, and by comparison I found it much less insightful to the human (male) condition. From the cover notes I was also expecting it to be funnier. There are some hilarious moments but it is certainly not a comedy. Maybe it is the focus on what a "good Jewish boy" should do that made it more difficult for me to identify with the main character. The agonising battle against guilt and his biology (sexual drive) can perhaps only truly make sense from a Jewish perspective of expectation. That said the style, of one book-long monologue, does help build an increasing tension and revelation. In the end it cleverly exposes the life of self-justification and essentially selfish, shallow existence, even if the apparent shackles are broken and every indulgence gratified. This is probably a book that would resonate with a 30-year old wondering where to go in life, but not so much a 50-year old wondering what it all meant.
on 25 January 2012
So you start reading it and all of a sudden you understand that Portnoy is actually complaining to you, nothing official about it, no hidden meaning. It is a book of ranting from cover to cover, of insight into the main character's personal life, his hidden fears, paranoia, his relationship with his mother, all this emphasizing the image of the troubled Jewish American male that you can find in Woody Allen's films and books as well as in Larry David's style.
You come to realize that you are in the role of the psychoanalyst and that you are the silent listener to his complaint.
From his relationship failures to his family life, the book, written a couple of decades ago, is valid for anybody's frustrations and fears, and I consider it a bold exercise in removing all forms of censorship and just showing yourself in all your weaknesses.
At times very funny, when you imagine the situations the character describes with despair, the book is a revelation of Roth's versatility. Having read other novels by him, this one really stands out!
Philip Roth's exuberant tale of Jewish anxiety and sexual obsession, though having been written almost half a century ago (in 1967), has lost none of its anarchic impact or ability to shock. Mixing elements of the likes of Henry Miller and Woody Allen (with a bit of J P Donleavy - taken to the nth degree - thrown in), Roth's (quasi-autobiographical) story of protagonist, New Jersey-born Alexander Portnoy, emerges from the page as a 'stream of consciousness', replete with matters explicitly sexual (with a `gory' focus on self-abuse), but underpinned with much perception around the human (and, in particular of course, the Jewish) condition and (for me at least) giving rise to an irresistible reading experience.
Here, Roth is particularly evocative in his drawing of his 'hero's' parents, whether it be in their suspicions around Alex's 'lingering in the bathroom antics' or in their frustration as a result of his increasingly radical ('communist') political leanings. Of course, such themes were to become the staple of much of Roth's later writings. It is, however, the misogynistic, incestuous and oedipal tendencies of one Alexander Portnoy that this work will undoubtedly be primarily remembered for, a characterisation that Roth would develop still further - to a still more extreme, but arguably more profound, level - in his sixty-something anti-hero, Mickey Sabbath, in his 1995 work, Sabbath's Theatre.
on 1 December 2008
Anybody contemplating reading Zuckerman Unbound (very good read) should perhaps read this first as I am assuming this is the "Carnovsky" book referred to. I read them in reverse order and may read Zuckerman Unbound again as it has certainly given it more depth of meaning. Just a suggestion (or am I the stupid one who didn't realise and you all know!!)
on 9 September 2009
This is the second Roth novel I've read and as such I knew roughly what to expect.
Roth is a great writer and Portnoy's Complaint is a fairly formless account of teenage angst unresolved in a grown man. The angst, as with all novels that have a psychoanalyst in the background (as does Roth's protagonist), is mainly about sex. This in turn relates to his issues about seperation from his mother/family and the difficulties he has of resolving his angst against a Jewish upbringing.
The novel is engaging (as the topic of sex often is anyway) and amusing, although I think that most will find the Guardian's 'The most outrageously funny book about sex yet written' an exaggeration.
As a reading experience I would certainly recommend this novel to others, as it was recommended to me, however I would have difficulty explaining what it's actually about, just as I've had to rack my brains to write this review. That, I suppose is a comment on lack of plot, which isn't necessarily a barrier to making it a good book, but is a barrier to making it a well-rounded book worthy of the "excellent" five stars.
on 5 April 2013
Starts well but drifts downhill pretty rapidly. By the end of the book I hated the main character, and his penis, as much as he did.