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Scurrilous and bawdy,
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.