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No Complaint, Philip Roth bags Booker International

books Updated: May 19, 2011 00:18 IST
Hindustan Times
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If you follow literature, you either love Philip Roth or you hate him. So it comes as no surprise that the 78-year-old Pulitzer-winning writer of modern classics such as Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral has won the fourth Man Booker International.

It then should also come as no surprise that one of the jury members, feminist, author and publisher Carmen Callil, is so angered by the decision that she 'resigned' in protest.

"He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book."

In a way, Callil is right.

Roth's 53-year career is littered with comic narrative and sexually explicit language that don't always go down well with the literary high church in Britain and in Oprah Book Club-guided America.

Roth has been riffing on the same human condition that European masters like Rabelais and Cervantes had: the bawdy and the tragic mix to make great literary gruel.

In his early books, his hero was almost always a sexually over-active, mother-obsessing motormouth Jewish man. Of late, Roth's protagonists have continued the strain while meditating on - and railing against - growing old.

"Everybody else is working to change, persuade, tempt and control them. The best readers come to fiction to be free of all that noise."

One can say the same thing about Philip Roth, arguably the purest, agenda-less of living writers.