Dylan Jones: Discovering Philip Roth

'Roth has written masterpieces at an age when most authors can't string two sentences together'


One of the joys of discovering someone relatively late in the day is knowing that you can now immerse yourself in their back catalogue. Imagine only discovering The Beatles in your forties. Or Martin Scorsese. Or Frank Zappa. For me, 2006 will always be the year of Philip Roth, for that very reason. I'd read Portnoy's Complaint as a teenager, and then read Our Gang (the Nixon allegory) in my early thirties. But until last year the Roth oeuvre was as familiar to me as the Fields of Nephilim (the band, not the people).

In an odd sort of a way, I feel perfectly OK about this, as Roth has really only come into his own in the later stages of his career, and far from "doing" a Martin Amis or an Orson Welles, has produced his masterpieces at an age when most authors are wondering why they can no longer string two sentences together. Yes, of course he wrote several masterpieces in his middle youth (the Zuckerman books in particular), but it's as an old man that he's flourished.

For me, Roth is the king of male solipsism, an epic hypochondriac who has analysed and catalogued the American male Jewish experience like no other. Bigger than Updike, more productive than Heller, Pynchon or Wolfe, and less hysterical than Mailer, Roth is the colossus of contemporary American fiction.

So far this year, I have read The Breast, The Great American Novel, Shop Talk, The Prague Orgy, Patrimony, American Pastoral, I Married a Communist, The Plot Against America and Everyman. I remember reading John Irving when I was younger, and thinking that - at his best - he had the ability to describe just how fragile life is, and the best American 20th-century novelists have all, at some time in their careers, had the same knack.

Last year's Everyman, essentially a study of approaching death, distilled this art further. While not having the fireside manner of Patrimony (a great book), Everyman feels grand - it is grand - while also reading as though Roth knocked it off in a few afternoons (and that isn't a criticism by the way).

So I have a big year ahead of me, a year that's going to be filled with the likes of Sabbath's Theatre, The Human Stain and My Life as a Man.

And, to balance the books, and to show that I haven't lost the common touch, I think I'm going to explore the work of Jean Michel Jarre. I gather his third album is quite special.

Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?