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The Humbling

The Humbling

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The Humbling

valoraciones:
3/5 (9 valoraciones)
Longitud:
104 página
2 horas
Publicado:
Nov 2, 2009
ISBN:
9780547416953
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Everything is over for Simon Axler, the protagonist of Philip Roth’s startling new book. One of the leading American stage actors of his generation, now in his sixties, he has lost his magic, his talent, and his assurance. His Falstaff and Peer Gynt and Vanya, all his great roles, "are melted into air, into thin air." When he goes onstage he feels like a lunatic and looks like an idiot. His confidence in his powers has drained away; he imagines people laughing at him; he can no longer pretend to be someone else. "Something fundamental has vanished." His wife has gone, his audience has left him, his agent can’t persuade him to make a comeback.

Into this shattering account of inexplicable and terrifying self-evacuation bursts a counterplot of unusual erotic desire, a consolation for a bereft life so risky and aberrant that it points not toward comfort and gratification but to a yet darker and more shocking end. In this long day’s journey into night, told with Roth’s inimitable urgency, bravura, and gravity, all the ways that we convince ourselves of our solidity, all our life’s performances—talent, love, sex, hope, energy, reputation—are stripped off.

The Humbling is Roth’s thirtieth book.

Publicado:
Nov 2, 2009
ISBN:
9780547416953
Formato:
Libro

Sobre el autor

Philip Roth (1933-2018) was the award-winning author of Goodbye, Columbus, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Great American Novel, and the books that became known as the Zuckerman Trilogy (The Ghost Writer, Zuckerman Unbound, The Anatomy Lesson), among many others. His honors include two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle Awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, the Man Booker International Prize, the National Humanities Medal, and the Pulitzer Prize. Born in Newark, New Jersey, Philip studied literature at Bucknell University, graduating magna cum laude with a B.A., and at the University of Chicago where he received an M.A. From 1955 to 1991, he taught writing and literature classes on the faculties of the University of Chicago, Princeton University, and the University of Pennsylvania. In 2005, he was the only third living writer whose books were published by the Library of America. He lived in Manhattan and Connecticut.

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The Humbling - Philip Roth

HMH

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination.

Copyright © 2009 by Philip Roth

All rights reserved

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to trade.permissions@hmhco.com or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

www.hmhco.com

The Library of Congress has cataloged the print edition as follows:

Roth, Philip.

The humbling / Philip Roth.

p. cm.

ISBN 978-0-547-23969-9

I. Title.

PS3568.0855H85 2009

813'.54-dc22 2009013742

eISBN 978-0-547-41695-3

v3.0917

The teaching technique credited to Vincent Daniels on page 34 is borrowed from How to Stop Acting by Harold Guskin (Faber and Faber, 2003).

For J. T.

1

Into Thin Air

HE’D LOST HIS MAGIC. The impulse was spent. He’d never failed in the theater, everything he had done had been strong and successful, and then the terrible thing happened: he couldn’t act. Going onstage became agony. Instead of the certainty that he was going to be wonderful, he knew he was going to fail. It happened three times in a row, and by the last time nobody was interested, nobody came. He couldn’t get over to the audience. His talent was dead.

Of course, if you’ve had it, you always have something unlike anyone else’s. I’ll always be unlike anyone else, Axler told himself, because I am who I am. I carry that with me—that people will always remember. But the aura he’d had, all his mannerisms and eccentricities and personal peculiarities, what had worked for Falstaff and Peer Gynt and Vanya—what had gained Simon Axler his reputation as the last of the best of the classical American stage actors—none of it worked for any role now. All that had worked to make him himself now worked to make him look like a lunatic. He was conscious of every moment he was on the stage in the worst possible way. In the past when he was acting he wasn’t thinking about anything. What he did well he did out of instinct. Now he was thinking about everything, and everything spontaneous and vital was killed—he tried to control it with thinking and instead he destroyed it. All right, Axler told himself, he had hit a bad period. Though he was already in his sixties, maybe it would pass while he was still recognizably himself. He wouldn’t be the first experienced actor to go through it. A lot of people did. I’ve done this before, he thought, so I’ll find some way. I don’t know how I’m going to get it this time, but I’ll find it—this will pass.

It didn’t pass. He couldn’t act. The ways he could once rivet attention on the stage! And now he dreaded every performance, and dreaded it all day long. He spent the entire day thinking thoughts he’d never thought before a performance in his life: I won’t make it, I won’t be able to do it, I’m playing the wrong roles, I’m overreaching, I’m faking, I have no idea even of how to do the first line. And meanwhile he tried to occupy the hours doing a hundred seemingly necessary things to prepare: I have to look at this speech again, I have to rest, I have to exercise, I have to look at that speech again, and by the time he got to the theater he was exhausted. And dreading going out there. He would hear the cue coming closer and closer and know that he couldn’t do it. He waited for the freedom to begin and the moment to become real, he waited to forget who he was and to become the person doing it, but instead he was standing there, completely empty, doing the kind of acting you do when you don’t know what you are doing. He could not give and he could not withhold; he had no fluidity and he had no reserve. Acting became a night-after-night exercise in trying to get away with something.

It had started with people speaking to him. He couldn’t have been more than three or four when he was already mesmerized by speaking and being spoken to. He had felt he was in a play from the outset. He could use intensity of listening, concentration, as lesser actors used fireworks. He had that power offstage, too, particularly, when younger, with women who did not realize that they had a story until he revealed to them that they had a story, a voice, and a style belonging to no other. They became actresses with Axler, they became the heroines of their own lives. Few stage actors could speak and be spoken to the way he could, yet he could do neither anymore. The sound that used to go into his ear felt as though it were going out, and every word he uttered seemed acted instead of spoken. The initial source in his acting was in what he heard, his response to what he heard was at the core of it, and if he couldn’t listen, couldn’t hear, he had nothing to go on.

He was asked to play Prospero and Macbeth at the Kennedy Center—it was hard to think of a more ambitious double bill—and he failed appallingly in both, but especially as Macbeth. He couldn’t do low-intensity Shakespeare and he couldn’t do high-intensity Shakespeare—and he’d been doing Shakespeare all his life. His Macbeth was ludicrous and everyone who saw it said as much, and so did many who hadn’t seen it. No, they don’t even have to have been there, he said, to insult you. A lot of actors would have turned to drink to help themselves out; an old joke had it that there was an actor who would always drink before he went onstage, and when he was warned You mustn’t drink, he replied, What, and go out there alone? But Axler didn’t drink, and so he collapsed instead. His breakdown was colossal.

The worst of it was that he saw through his breakdown the same way he could see through his acting. The suffering was excruciating and yet he doubted that it was genuine, which made it even worse. He did not know how he was going to get from one minute to the next, his mind felt as though it were melting, he was terrified to be alone, he could not sleep more than two or three hours a night, he scarcely ate, he thought every day of killing himself with the gun in the attic—a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun that he kept in the isolated farmhouse for self-defense—and still the whole thing seemed to be an act, a bad act. When you’re playing the role of somebody coming apart, it has organization and order; when you’re observing yourself coming apart, playing the role of your own demise, that’s something else, something awash with terror and fear.

He could not convince himself he was mad any more than he’d been able to convince himself or anyone else he was Prospero or Macbeth. He was an artificial madman too. The only role available to him was the role of someone playing a role. A sane man playing an insane man. A stable man playing a broken man. A self-controlled man playing a man out of control. A man of solid achievement, of theatrical renown—a large, burly actor standing six feet four inches tall, with a big bald head and the strong, hairy body of a brawler, with a face that could convey so much, a decisive jaw and stern dark eyes and a sizable mouth he could twist every which way, and a low commanding voice emanating from deep down that always had a little growl in it, a man conscientiously on the grand scale who looked as if he could stand up to anything and easily fulfill all of a man’s roles, the embodiment of invulnerable resistance who looked to have absorbed into his being the egoism of a dependable giant—playing an insignificant mite. He screamed aloud when he awakened in the night and found himself still locked inside the role of the man deprived of himself, his talent, and his place in the world, a loathsome man who was nothing more than the inventory of his defects. In the mornings he hid in bed for hours, but instead of hiding from the role he was merely playing the role. And when finally he got up, all he could think about was suicide, and not its simulation either. A man who wanted to live playing a man who wanted to die.

Meanwhile, Prospero’s most famous words wouldn’t let him be, perhaps because he’d so recently mangled them. They repeated themselves so regularly in his head that they soon became a hubbub of sounds tortuously empty of meaning

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  • (3/5)
    I'm a big fan of Roth's earlier work, but this is far from his best work. The first 'act' has merit, the second is average and the third is dreadful. I think Roth should quit before he destroys his legacy altogether.
  • (5/5)
    Just finished reading Philip Roth's, "The Humbling." While some say it is his best book in years, I would disagree. He is still writing in top form and all his books in recent years have been great. He is our greatest living writer of American fiction. I have long labored under the shadows of Bellow and Updike, but now unequivocally I can say Roth is the best of the best. His writing is getting smaller, more compact, and richer all the same. His books are miniature works of art gleaming in the light like little jewels.
  • (4/5)
    This was a short book and for the reason I liked it. It got right into the plot. It did a good job getting into the character's mind and motivation. Being a fan of Philip Roth makes this much easier for me to like. I can see where people that do not know his style may not like this book. The was potential to put more into the book such his relationship with his wife, but I am not sure if that would have contributed to the overall plot.
  • (5/5)
    Several of Roth's novels rank among my all-time top reads, The Human Stain and Sabbath's Theater leading the charge. Then there are the averagely good novels, like Indignation and Exit Ghost. And then there are the novels that seem written by a lesser being, Everyman, the Kepesh books, novels almost entirely devoid of plot and lacking the sensual flow of his best prose. The Humbling begins as if it belongs to this final category. Simon Axler, great of the American stage, has lost his muse; so great is his loss that he contemplates suicide and places himself inside a mental health institution. Tedious, humourless stuff. Only Roth, I suspect, intends it to be so. For in the second of the book's two parts, entitled The Transformation, the language springs to life, as do the characterisations, enough plot to maintain interest, everything. There is the usual galling sexual relationship between a man and a much younger woman, and I would be the first to agree that this alone might put many a reader off this and other works, but it is told with great knowing as well as great humour and pathos. No doubt Roth is playing with the reader. People give me grief for this kind of stuff: well what do you think of this then? He is also playing with perceptions of his own powers and how they might wane as he continues further into old age. On this performance (ah, and I'm sure that's why his protagonist is an actor; Roth is a performer) there is plenty of great work to come.
  • (2/5)
    This one isn't really up to Roth's usual stunning prose. I couldn't empathise with any of the characters nor find a reason to even be interested in them. Yes, growing old is very difficult and loosing our place in the world hurts and can lead people to desperate acts. However, a lot of where we end up depends on where we have been and how we have handled our intimate relationships which Roth constantly explores. Most of his works have been more successful than this one, I feel.
  • (4/5)
    Advanced age, doomed sex, and impending death: just the kind of topics you enjoy exploring on a cozy winter night, right? Roth's frequent laments about the dark underbelly of the golden years may alienate some readers, but his literary skill keeps me coming back for more. The Dying Animal, Exit Ghost, Everyman -- I just can't stop, as evidenced by my recent one-night immersion his thirtieth book, The Humbling.Roth's aging characters share one outstanding characteristic: they can't bear the thought of giving up on sex. Their stubborn refusal to go quietly into that celibate night is linked to deeper psychological moorings than mere carnal desire. In their minds, sex is the polar opposite of decay and death; as long as it can be maintained, the grim reaper is forced to pause at the door. The protagonist of The Humbling, Simon Axler, is no exception to the rule.Unlike some of Roth's previous characters, Axler's late-life crisis doesn't commence with a physical ailment. Axler, a famous A-level theater actor -- wakes up one day and finds himself utterly unable to act. Each stage performance becomes a tortuous farce in which he floats out of his body and views himself puppeting the lines like an automaton. His shock at this new ineptitude is surpassed only by his shock at the impersonal, random way in which such a key element of his personality has been erased overnight. Nothing can be relied upon forever, apparently.Axler begins a downward spiral. His agent is infuriated that he won't suck it up and attempt a comeback, his wife leaves him (she was never that wild about him in the first place), and he spends a brief stint in a mental hospital after thoughts of suicide threaten to overwhelm him. He eventually finds himself living a hermit's existence in one of those isolated East-coast "farmhouses" inhabited by artists and literati (like Roth). This is where the story gets interesting: from here on out, Roth's story line is so unbelievable as to border on the ludicrous, but Roth's piercing exposition of an aging man's psychosexual innards springs from the page with such raw authenticity it saves the day.Axler opens the rustic door of his rural hideaway one snowy day and greets Pegeen Stapleford, daughter of two of Axler's best friends from the past, Carol and Asa Stapleford. Pegeen's visit is a total surprise; he hasn't seen her for over twenty years. Indeed, his most vivid memory of Pegeen is a mental picture of her nursing Carol's breast shortly after her birth. Pegeen, a self-professed lesbian since the age of twenty three, is still smarting from a long term love affair gone sour in Montana. She has moved to the East coast for a fresh start (she's procured a teaching job at the local college by seducing the female dean), and she's popped in on Axler, out of the blue, to say hello (?).One thing leads to another, and before the end of the afternoon, Pegeen has hopped into the sack with Axler, despite the fact that 1) Pegeen knows virtually nothing about Axler beyond his reputation as a former star of the theater; 2) Axler, aged 65, is Pegeen's senior by 25 years, 3) Pegeen has been steadfast in her sexual preference for women during the past seventeen years, 4) Axler's relationship with Pegeen in the past was purely avuncular, and 5) Pegeen's parents would be (and, as it turns out, are) outraged at the relationship. Don't get me wrong -- I don't thing any one of the circumstances I've listed above would not be prohibitive if standing alone, but in the aggregate?? Give me a break.A whirlwind romance follows in which Pegeen dumps her college dean (hell hath no fury . . . ) and settles into a cozy domestic arrangement with Axler, Their isolated country life is invigorated by enthusiastic sex and occasional trips into NYC, where Axler showers Pegeen with feminine clothes and provides her with a transformational haircut (Who knew sexual re-orientation could be so easy? Someone alert Evergreen!). Axler is living a classic male dream come true ("He felt the strength in her well-muscled arms . . . he cupped her hard behind in his hands and drew her toward him so that they kissed again. . . . she . . . was with a man for the first time since college"). At this point, the reader begins to wonder if Axler is taking his cues from Woody Allen and/or Pretty Woman. Storm clouds are approaching, however. The scorned college dean pays an uninvited visit to Axler and proceeds to give him an earful concerning Pegeen's less attractive qualities, while Pegeen gets a similar earful about Axler from her distraught parents. Axler proceeds to subconsciously shoot himself in the foot with an escapade that is as foolish as it is factually improbable (I'll let you discover this one on your own), and then . . . .Roth's doubtful narrative is redeemed by the raw honesty and skill with which he reveals the inner workings of Axler's mind as he wades through his existential crisis. Axler views Pegeen as his chance at a "second birth;" she's the feminine muse he needs to reinvigorate his acting ability and his manhood. Despite her horrified parents, despite her previous sexual history, despite long odds at every turn, he's determined to have her and the reincarnation she offers. And yet, in the midst of Axler's wildest fantasies (he plans to have a child with Pegeen), some part of him knows that his obsessive drive towards renewal may ultimately accelerate his own self destruction. He can see the train wreck coming, but he doesn't know whether he welcomes it or abhors it. Roth's portrayal of Axler's psychological moth-to-the-flame dance is utterly convincing, even if the book's story line is not.I've exposed quite a bit of plot line here, but the real value of the Roth's book lies in the spare prose, powerful metaphors (obvious and not so obvious), and psychological insights imbedded throughout the novel. His understated delivery belies an underlying reservoir of emotional combustibility. The Humbling is a compelling treat for readers who prefer truth over happy talk.
  • (2/5)
    Not Roth's best work. I couldn't help wondering how much Roth saw of himself in the main character an aging actor who could no longer summon the courage to act. An actor would couldn't even go through the motions of acting or living. If you are looking for a quick unimaginative quick read then this is the book for you.
  • (4/5)
    A quick read, classically depressing Roth. Simon Axler, a famous Broadway actor loses his confidence and acting ability as he ages. The three longish chapters detail his decline and hospitalization for depression, then his re-acquaintance and affair with Pegeen (the daughter of some acting friends from early in his career), and then his break-up with Pegeen, who decides she is a lesbian after all.
  • (2/5)
    Roth's usual rumblings about mortality, indignities of age, blah blah...Everyman was better. Portnoy's Prostate is getting old.
  • (3/5)
    Enjoyable and thought-provoking read, but I thought it lacked the stylistic verve that I've so enjoyed in some of Roth's other books.
  • (4/5)
    I found this to be an interesting book so much that I couldn't put it down. This may have been in part due to the length as more of a novella. Roth continues on with one his themes about the onset of aging and the resulting consequences. In Roth's form much of this is in the sexual nature. You can read the other reviews to get the details of the story but basically it's about an aging actor that has lost his ability to act. It's easy to see how a reader could relate this to almost any profession. The result of his lost ability to act is a depression and thoughts of suicide. Add into the mix an affair with a much younger woman. While not of the scale of Roth's award winning novels I still liked the story and the characters.
  • (1/5)
    pathetic - if you want to read about an aging actor that cannot look beyond his own ego - then read this book. People with no hope will commit suicide, this man would not even accept help. I am glad it was a small book with only 140 pages. The characters were not even memorable. If this is who people are becoming we are all in deep trouble.
  • (2/5)
    this is a short and morbidly fun story to read. it took me 2 hours or so. great pool reading. an old man looking at nice girls at the pool, something like that. if you are short of time you may not want to read it.
  • (3/5)
    Roth starts with an intriguing premise: a celebrated actor suddenly loses his ability to act and must face his own mortality as he grasps desperately for some measure of meaning in his life. But the novel ultimately feels unfinished, the characters too underdeveloped to elicit much sympathy. As Simon Axler's life begins it's downward trajectory, the plot becomes more fantastical and forced, and the dramatic ending comes mostly as a relief. In the end, I felt no desire to spend any more time with the sad and misguided Simon Axler.
  • (2/5)
    A quick glance through the other reviews here reveals one of the most diverse set of reactions to a book I have seen for quite some time. I don't see a problem with that, as I don't even there is such a thing as an objectively "good" work of art. We may arrive at an objective idea of whether a book succeeds technically, but that is only part of any judgement. So what was my personal take on this one? It was the first Roth novel I have read. I reacted so strongly against it that I would be reluctant to try another, were it not for the comments here suggesting that it is not his best work.To be blunt, what I reacted against was the sex. At one stage the narrator says something like 'this is not soft porn', which is odd, because that is exactly what it seemed to be turning into. On the other hand, there did at least appear to be some point to the book: it had a beginning, a middle and an end, and it appeared to have something to say about modern life, even if wasn't something this particular reader wanted to hear. So it was more successful for me than the only Paul Auster novel I have so far attempted to read. I shall try one of Roth's earlier books before concluding that his work is not for me.
  • (3/5)
    I suppose I should point out that there are possible spoilers included here. First of all, I must state the Philip Roth has been one of my true literary heroes for decades, and reading his books has brought me a great deal of pleasure. And though I no longer expect his releases to have the brilliance of the main body of his work, I was especially disappointed in this book. As have been his last few books, The Humbling is essentially a novella. That's fine. But this one, I hate to say, didn't add up to much for me. The story begins as Simon Axler, a famous stage (mostly) and screen actor who suddenly takes the stage to find himself utterly unable to act. So I was hoping we are about to get an exploration of what happens to a famous artist who suddenly and quite publicly finds that his muse has left him and he's no longer able to pursue his art, the work and passion of a long, fulfilling lifetime, and I was greatly looking forward to seeing how Roth was going to handle this issue.Unfortunately for us, or at least for me, Axler is soon {emphasis on "soon," so this is not much of a spoiler} joined in his countryside retreat by a woman 25 years his junior, someone he has known since she was, literally, an infant, who shows up at his door wanting nothing less than to become his lover. Easy, squeasy. So now the book takes a hard left turn to offer us a view of the perils an aging man faces in trying to maintain a relationship with a much younger woman. The trouble was for me that a) none of this second part is believable and b) Roth dealt with this issue much more strongly and effectively, although not, I'll admit, identically, in The Dying Animal.Maybe the relationship with a younger woman is supposed to be a metaphor for the character's relationship with acting, with the powers of his younger artistic self. If so, it seems way too heavy-handed for me. I would much have preferred, for a lot of reasons, a more direct delving into the aging artist/vanishing muse question. All in all, this novel didn't add up to much for me, and I found the ending unsatisfying, as well. I hate having to say all this. I love Roth's work. And although I guess I did enjoy this book well enough in the reading of it, I felt it a let down all told.
  • (1/5)
    Ok, maybe I missed something, but what the heck? If I was reading this instead of listening to the cd while I worked on my art, I probably would not have finished it. Some old guy forgets how to act, hooks up with his friends' lesbian daughter and then can't deal when she's over him? So? I've read the other reviews, so I may give Roth a try with another novel. But if they're all like this, maybe you just have to be certain age to identify.
  • (1/5)
    Philip Roth is one of my favorite writers. That said, I really hated this book. The only "pro" I can think of is that it is very short. Roth's books have always been autobiographical, and I have always thought of him as that randy uncle who is a little handsy; the uncle you are glad to see because something about him is endearing, but you are grateful meetings only occur a couple times a year. With this book he moves from that uncle to the uncle you need to report to child and family services. The writing is flat and uninspired, the plot disjointed and self-pitying, the sex is both graphic and outright revolting, and the depictions of lesbians are laugh out loud bad 50's women-in-prison movie ludicrous. What Roth doesn't know about women could fill a lot of books -- actually it has filled a lot of books. Some other people learn and grow from their interactions with other humans, but Roth has regressed in this regard. If you love Roth, stay away. It will tarnish your love. Music fans, its like when you hear "Rock the Casbah" and it diminishes but doesn't utterly destroy the beauty of "London Calling." If you have never read Roth, don't go here. Read "Goodbye Columbus", "Portnoy's Complaint", "Sabbath's Theatre", "The Plot Against America", "American Pastoral", hell read ANY OTHER Roth book but not this. It is really that bad.
  • (3/5)
    Philip Roth is always interesting, but this was one of his least interesting. Deals with a recent common Roth theme--old guy facing aging by taking up with younger woman. Not one of his best, but still readable.
  • (4/5)
    No one dissects, probes, and analyses a character’s angst, fears, hopes, and dreams like Philip Roth. This “three-act play” involves three stages in the life of Simon Axler, a well-known, well-respected actor of stage and screen.This novella might compare well to an epic tale in the mold of Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero’s journey. In Act One, Axler separates from his talent; in Act Two, a helper tries to smooth the path to the climax of the tale; and Act Three is the “return,” the denouement of his life. Roth has skillfully taken the reader on a close examination of the later stages of Simon’s life when all seems lost.This work of fiction contains graphic scenes of sexually activity – in one case, the scene disturbed me a great deal. In another, only the most tender words and images found their way onto the page. Another scene perplexed me, but, at the same time, titillated me just a bit. These scenes are definitely rated NC-17. Roth always has some sexual activity in his novels, but these are more intense than most others he has written. I won’t offer a sample, but take my word for it – Philip Roth is a master of description, and his skills are nearly at the top in this tight, brief story. Four stars--Jim, 11/09/09
  • (4/5)
    Philip Roth’s latest short novel “The Humbling” continues his late fascination with death and decay - “the speeding up of slowing down” Like much of his more recent output it’s another departure from the usual Newark Jewish intellectual milieu, although there are still some resonances with earlier work.Simon Axler occupies centre stage. A formerly feted and lionised performer he has precipitously failed - He can no longer act. His life in disarray and after failed attempts to revive his powers he retreats to his country mansion.There, deserted by his talent, his wife but not, apparently, by his powers of seduction he begins a short lived affair with Pegeen, 40 year old voluptuous daughter of his closest friends and still reeling from her lover’s decision for gender reassignment. As buxom, beautiful lesbians go Pegeen may well be a geriatric male’s masturbatory fantasy but Axler is ultimately cast off when Pegeen abandons her heterosexual experiment.Sex is a major element and some of the sex scenes are wincingly bad ( Roth is nominated in the “Bad Sex Awards” ) but there’s a hint of provocation that suggests it’s deliberately so. It sits so awkwardly with the beautifully controlled prose that the alternative seems improbable.Roth’s celebrated ear for dialogue also appears to desert him but a more generous reading would allow the possibility that Axler is effectively snared within a performance. He doesn’t speak. He has dialogue. He emotes. The nature of his end would support this - Simon must have felt himself “a poor player”, “a walking shadow” his final act possible only if scripted.Roth’s point could be that we are all similarly trapped in a performance. Unfortunately, for many, it’s one rarely written by Chekhov.
  • (3/5)
    I love Philip Roth's prose, the way it seems to just flow directly from somewhere inside him, like lava or blood, yet always with extraordinary control of nuance. I haven't read enough of his novels to know if The Humbling is representative of what he's writing these days, but I do hope it's not. I also hope the book isn't a fictionalised representation of his current state of mind. Simon Axler, the hero, is a great stage actor who has suddenly lost his ability to act, and the agony of his loss is conveyed with such poignancy that it's hard not to think Roth has been there, or has at least fantasised such a loss for himself.What does a great artist do in such a situation? Well, first he doesn't kill himself, then he commits himself into a psych hospital, then he's discharged and after a while either kills himself or doesn't (he does make a clear choice, I'm trying not to be too spoilerish). And that's the whole story. Except for the second act where he falls in love with a much younger woman and has lots of increasingly exotic sex with her. I believed in the despair. I accepted the falling in love. The specifics of the sex felt like an older man working hard to imagine how the young folk these days do stuff, what with all that queer theory and non-binary approach to gender they're always going on about. Or maybe I was just embarrassed.