Wednesday, 9 February 2000

Philip Roth: Portnoy's Complaint (1969)

Edition: Penguin, 1986
Review number: 435

It took me a long time to get into Roth's novel. Despite the endorsements on the back telling me it was one of the most hilarious novels ever written, it didn't make me laugh for over a hundred pages. Unease was a better description of the reaction caused in me by the over the top stereotyped Jewish family background.

Portnoy's Complaint is ostensibly a transcript of Alexander Portnoy's sessions with his therapist, an attempt to cure the complaint of the title (defined in medical dictionary form on the first page). He spends his life desperately chasing woman after woman, only to find that each sexual encounter is terribly unsatisfying.

The hideous Portnoy family are basically a Jewish joke taken to an extreme, particularly the deliberately stereotypical mother. They are meant to be caricatures, but I found them distinctly uninvolving and repellent. Basically, Portnoy's Complaint did not live up to its reputation.

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