Wife's complaints leave Portnoy exposed

Memoirs of actress Claire Bloom paint a dark picture of Philip Roth as a distant, cold and angry husband
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The Independent Online
Memoirs by the actress Claire Bloom, to be published next month, provide a full and frank account of her marriage to Philip Roth, most famous for his sexually explicit novel, Portnoy's Complaint.

Roth's career is based on confessional books, so it is an ironic volte- face that he is now the subject of one by his ex-wife, whom he married in 1990 at her request after a 15-year relationship.

The memoirs paint a dark picture of Roth as a man characterised by furious anger attacks and childish tantrums, who forced Bloom to make her daughter, Anna, leave home at 18 because he disliked her so much.

But the most extraordinary insight into Roth's life with the actress, whom many believe was the most beautiful of her generation, is given in a telling incident before their marriage.

She tells how Roth had begun a new novel, Deception, and had been uncharacteristically quiet about his progress. He worked in a studio two blocks from their New York flat, and one day Bloom burst in on him with some good news which had arrived by letter.

His reaction was cold, alarmed and unwelcoming, so much so that Bloom left and swore never to interrupt him again. Later, when Roth had finished his book, he did not give it to Bloom to read - another unusual development. Finally, after three weeks, he gave her the manuscript.

What she read was a passage about a self-hating Anglo-Jewish family, a precise description of Roth's working studio in London, and accounts of the numerous women who had come to have sex with him there "in the most convoluted positions, preferably on the floor".

Finally Bloom came to a chapter about his "remarkably uninteresting middle- aged wife, who, as described, is nothing better than an ever-spouting fountain of tears constantly bemoaning the fact that his other women are so young".

The woman was an actress by profession - and her name was Claire, she writes in her book, Leaving A Doll's House, published by Virago.

That evening, she recounts, Roth came home "far earlier than usual" carrying a gold and emerald snake ring from thejeweller, Bulgari.

"I waited for him, shaking with rage. I told him he had used me most shabbily. I told him I wanted my name out of the book. I told him that was the end of that; there would be no discussion.

"He tried to explain that he had called his protagonist Philip, therefore to name the wife Claire would add to the richness of the texture." Bloom told him she would sue if it was not changed.

Despite the warning signs, Bloom admits she was desperate to marry Roth and continued to be, even when he pro- duced a pre-nuptial settlement drawn up by his lawyer two weeks before the ceremony.

Under its terms, Roth could divorce her at will and not be financially responsible. "The apartment, possessions, everything reverted back to him," she wrote. She also discovered that he had taped a telephone conversation between them "for reasons I can only guess at".

The marriage did not last. Bloom and Roth split up and she later discovered that he had become involved with a mutual friend. "As the saying goes, the wife is the last to know."