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Roth takes novel revenge on ex-wife Claire Bloom

THE ADVICE "don't get mad; get even" has been taken up with relish by Philip Roth, the famed American author. His new novel, I Married A Communist, is seen as a thinly veiled riposte to an unflattering portrait of him painted by his ex-wife, the actress Claire Bloom, in her autobiography.

Roth frequently uses elements of his personality in his fiction. His most famous alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman - who part-narrates this book - was, like his creator, born a Jew in Newark, New Jersey, in 1933 and marries an Englishwoman. Bloom, an Oscar-winner who starred with Charlie Chaplin, Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton, was married to Roth for five of their 18 years together. They split in 1995.

In Roth's latest novel, Ira Ringold is an idealistic Communist radio actor who marries a beloved silent-film star, Eve Frame. Their story is retold by Ira's brother, Murray, and protege Nathan. The similarities to real life are highlighted by the central betrayal of the novel; Eve denounces her husband in a book of the same title as Roth's. In the novel, he retaliates: "After that book of hers, all he thought about was how to inflict [human cruelty] ... what this huge man really wanted to do was to lash out."

Bloom, in her account Leaving A Doll's House, published in 1996, told how her relationship with her opera singer daughter Anna - from her first marriage to actor Rod Steiger - was strained by Roth, who forbade the 18-year-old to live with them. She wrote: "Anna, furious and justifiably hurt, said that I had once again chosen a man over her... I feared Anna was right."

Roth was "bored and angered by our obsessive discussions" and "accused me of having an unhealthy preoccupation with Anna".

Roth's novel has other resonances: Eve is a "lonely actress in her forties, three times divorced" (Bloom was married, like Eve, to an actor and a theatrical producer). Bloom said Roth made a pass at her daughter's friend Rachael Halliwell; in the novel, it turns into a full-blown fling with a "Hebrew princess". Bloom's confession that she "lost all control" and "begged Philip not to leave" is echoed in a scene in which Frame on her knees cries to Ira: "I beg you! I implore you! Don't leave me!"

But she threatened to sue Roth after he named a jealous wife in one novel after her. In I Married A Communist, Eve is condemned for her book, because she didn't "own up to the spite" and can only weep and talk about how much in love she had been. Bloom admitted to crying fits while caring for Roth after he had a breakdown.

'I Married A Communist' is published by Cape at pounds 16.99. 'Leaving A Doll's House' is published by Virago at pounds 7.99.

Culture, page 11