The Later Work of Philip Roth

Stuart Evers on the American writers recent work
Philp Roth. Photograph: Douglas Healey/AP
In the space of a week two email exchanges ended with my correspondent saying practically the same thing. "Don't write him off," they said of two different English novelists. "He may yet pull a Roth." It was both a lamentation for an author's sad decline and a vain hope for a barely credible return to form. In the modern novel Philip Roth's case is unique. No one has come in from the cold in quite the way Roth did in the mid-90s. Or at least that's the official critical line.

The fact is that Roth has always been a maddeningly erratic writer. The sequence of novels that began with Sabbath's Theatre in 1995 and ended with 2000's The Human Stain are books of howling rage and bitter elegy – genuine works of art. But they were not without precedent, even when Roth's career was commercially and critically in dire straits. The Counterlife in 1987, for example, may well be his best book. What critics feasted on was that most hateful of modern expression his "journey": the bad boy of letters, now realising his potential and becoming the greatest living American novelist. The second coming of Roth was as much predicated on the literary community's surprise that he had bucked the established writerly trajectory – an early establishing period, a peak in middle age, terminal decline – as it was on the undoubted quality of his work. [Read the article]

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