Thursday, 26 December 2013

Roth, Philip "The Ghost Writer"

Roth, Philip "The Ghost Writer" - 1979

Why I have not read any books by this extraordinary writer is a big mystery to me.

What can I say, I really loved the book. I wondered whether this book was partly autobiographical, it certainly had tendencies that sounded like it. I liked the alternate history part, a genre I cherish a lot.

A young writer meets an older writer, his writing hero. And there he meets an interesting young girl who seems to have a fascinating past. That is the basic story. However, it's the way Philip Roth tells the story that makes it interesting, makes you want to know all about Nathan Zuckerman, the young author, and his life, makes you want to read the whole series.

Within just 180 pages, Philip Roth manages to give an overview of Jewish history, the Holocaust, Anne Frank's diary, and life in the United States in the fifties, especially the situations of the Jews at the time.

If you like the first sentences: "It was the last daylight hour of a December afternoon more than twenty years ago--I was twenty-three, writing and publishing my first short stories, and like many a Bildungsroman hero before me, already contemplating my own massive Bildungsroman--when I arrived at his hideaway to meet the great man. The clapboard farmhouse was at the end of an unpaved road twelve hundred feet up in the Berkshires, yet the figure who emerged from the study to bestow a ceremonious greeting wore a gabardine suit, a knitted blue tie clipped to a white shirt by an unadorned silver clasp, and well-brushed ministerial black shoes that made me think of him stepping down from a shoeshine stand rather than from the high altar of art", you will like the whole book. His writing is beautiful.

I will definitely read more by this author, especially since I have ordered the second one in the series (Zuckerman Unbound) right away at my library already.

From the back cover: "Exactly twenty years ago, Philip Roth made his debut with Goodbye, Columbus, a book that immediately announced the presence of a major new talent.The Ghost Writer, his eleventh book, begins with a young writer's search, twenty years ago, for the spiritual father who will comprehend and validate his art, and whose support will justify his inevitable flight from a loving but conventionally constricting Jewish middle-class home.  Nathan Zuckerman's quest brings him to E.I. Lonoff, whose work--exquisite parables of desire restrained--Nathan much admires.  Recently discovered by the literary world after decades of obscurity, Lonoff continues to live as a semi-recluse in rural Massachusetts with his wife, Hope, scion of an old New England family, whom the young immigrant married thirty-five years before.  At the Lonoffs' Nathan also meets Amy Bellette, a haunting young woman of indeterminate foreign background.  He is instantly infatuated with the attractive and gifted girl, and at first takes her for the aging writer's daughter.  She turns out to be a former student of Lonoff's--and may also have been Lonoff's mistress.  Zuckerman, with his imaginative curiosity, wonders if she could be the paradigmatic victim of Nazi persecution.  If she were, it might change his life.
A figure of fun to the New York literati, a maddeningly single-minded isolate to his wife, teacher-father-savior to Amy, Lonoff embodies for an enchanted Nathan the ideal of artistic integrity and independence.  Hope sees Amy (as does Amy herself) as Lonoff's last chance to break out of his self-imposed constraints, and she bitterly offers to leave him to the younger woman, a chance that, like one of his own heroes, Lonoff resolutely continues to deny himself.  Nathan, although in a state of youthful exultation over his early successes, is still troubled by the conflict between two kinds of conscience: tribal and family loyalties, on the one hand, and the demands of fiction, as he sees them, on the other.  A startling imaginative leap to the beginnings of a kind of wisdom about the unreckoned consequences of art.
Shocking, comic, and sad by turns,
The Ghost Writer is the work of a major novelist in full maturity."

I have read "Zuckerman Unbound" in the meantime.

Philip Roth received the Man Booker International Prize in 2011.


  1. Read him years ago, my first was Portnoy's Complaint.

    1. I knew the name, of course, but somehow I have never come across his books or was tempted to read them. I am glad I did now.

      Did you read this one? How does it compare to Portnoy's Complaint? And did you enjoy that one?

      Have a good day,

  2. Read Portnoy when I was quite young, probably still a teenager and I thought it was quite funny, also read his short stories, Good By Columbus. Don't remember reading much else by him.

    1. As long as you thought he was good. I am presently reading the next book in the series (Zuckerman Unbound) and quite enjoy it, as well.)
      Happy New Year,