Indignation Paperback – 6 Aug 2009
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"Intricately wrought, passionate and fascinating... A late masterpiece" (Financial Times)
"In Indignation, his power and intensity seem undiminished" (New York Times)
"He is a writer of quite extraordinary skill and courage" (London Review of Books)
"I relished Indignation. Roth writes with his trademark drive and fluency, on the knife blade between rage and laughter" (Guardian)
"Roth reasserts his fictional mastery with a fine taut narrative about the frustrations of youth...every part of it is dovetailed into a story of compelling economy...a mid-20th-century tale of nemesis with all the intellectual and imaginative force of a great novelist writing at the height of his powers" (Sunday Times)
`a gratifying novel in its won right ... Indignation is, unquestionably, seriously "good" Roth' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In order to avoid the draft, Marcus must graduate from college and since he is studious, highly intelligent and diligent, this won’t be a problem, will it? That’s if he can navigate the distractions provided by room-mates and the opposite sex - not to mention complying with the rules of the conservative Winesburg College. However, Marcus’ encounter with a female student has unexpected consequences and sets off a chain of events that will change the course of Marcus’ life.
I loved the dry humour of the dialogue and the eccentric cast of characters, balancing out the darker elements of the novel - all delivered in Roth’s effortless prose. A standout scene is Marcus’ interview with Dean Caudwell which is very funny and perfectly captures the pompous nature of the Dean and the youthful arrogance of Marcus. I also have to mention the curved ball delivered by the author (in my copy, on page 54). Suddenly, you realise the book is going to go in a completely different direction and Marcus’ father’s warning to his son that ‘the tiniest misstep can have tragic consequences’ changes from seeming humorously paranoid to downright prophetic.
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.
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