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Beth 26th Jul 2008 15:42

Re: Philip Roth
Ha! I may have finished a novel faster than John Self can. Sat down yesterday evening with The Professor of Desire and Never Let it Go. Roth packs such a wallop, it's a good thing the discussion is still a few days away. Still sorting this out as it's been five years or so since first reading it.

Edit: Quink, can you give a coded hint re: Indignation? *foot tapping, tapping*

An hour later: Just went through the last few pages of this again. Dammit, *****

John Self 26th Jul 2008 16:49

Re: Philip Roth
I'm making slowish progress - page 60 or so - but I don't mind that as I am trying to time it so that I finish it on Tuesday when the Booker longlist is announced, so I don't have the temptation of starting a new book on Monday... It seems to me so far to be the apotheosis of a certain reputation Roth has (probably among people who haven't really read him). As usual with Roth, there are more pencil marks by me down the margins in ten pages than most novelists manage in an entire book, but I'm not sure it'll be supplanting The Anatomy Lesson or The Prague Orgy in my affections.

John Self 28th Jul 2008 15:36

Re: Philip Roth
I'm only halfway through The Professor of Desire, partly from a busy weekend and partly because I'm finding that for stretches, it reminds me of how I felt when I didn't like Roth a few years ago (based on the likes of Sabbath's Theater and Deception). I'm finding less need for my margin-marking pencil. I'm also also finding that Kepesh's first person voice is mighty similar to Nathan Zuckerman's, albeit with less humour. This may be why Roth is so popularly considered to be closely associated with the protagonists of his work - a charge which he himself teases the reader with in the Zuckerman Bound books.

I'm predicting that as a book group read, this one will attract mixed responses, and that for those who haven't read any Roth before, it might put them off doing so again.

John Self 28th Jul 2008 15:39

Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth
Dammit, decided to use these posts as a springboard for discussion proper of the book. Technically doesn't open till Friday of course...

Beth 28th Jul 2008 15:44

Re: Philip Roth

Originally Posted by John Self (Post 95462)

I'm predicting that as a book group read, this one will attract mixed responses, and that for those who haven't read any Roth before, it might put them off doing so again.

I always enjoy reading the mixed responses in the group, but I don't know that this would discourage someone from reading more Roth. The first half is, to my thinking, quite claustrophobic, but the latter half breathes a bit and is quite beautiful. I think you're right about Kepesh's voice having less humor than Nathan's. He's even more intense, if such were possible.

John Self 7th Aug 2008 18:32

Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth
So where are we with this one, then? I haven't really had time to corral my thoughts as I went straight from this into the Booker circus, but in the end I gave it a mental ****0. Definitely a less assured performance - or should I say a less consistent performance, as Roth rarely lacks assurance - than the Zuckermans I've loved so much of late.

If the twin concerns of the book - eroticism and (literary) learning - are contained within the title, then those are the two subjects where I felt the book was at its strongest. I loved the early sections where Kepesh was riddled with guilt over what his threesome did to the delicate Elisabeth - and was slightly relieved, too, as it absolved the author of any accusations of misogyny. I also loved the later stuff with Kepesh obsessing over Chekhov and Kafka (the dream with Kafka's whore was a wonderful set piece).

I'll pull my copy out when I get a chance, and work out what some of the specifics were that appealed to me. But I also recall struggling at times - I think it took me a week to read, an enormous stretch by my standards for a relatively short book - and feeling that the middle sections were not without their longueurs.

Colyngbourne 8th Aug 2008 23:40

Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth
Oh, I'm glad it wasn't just me that struggled to read this one. I would also give it ****0 overall but for the 250 pages in my copy, it took me about a week and a struggle to finish it during the 12+ hour journey back from the States today. I had read Everyman before now and loved that but found there was less appeal in Kepesh to draw me in.

Like Beth, I found the latter half of the book more appealing, although the persistent references to the erotic in literature just made the character of Kepesh fairly tedious after a while: for all his profession of comparative literature, all we heard him obsess about was the erotica.

Arriving home, I checked the film pages of today's Indy and find that Elegy is out today - based on The Dying Animal, another Kepesh story (and seemingly still obsessed with pendulous breasts).

John Self 9th Aug 2008 0:00

Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth
Welcome home, Col!

Yes I saw a review of Elegy today. I was surprised to see Penelope Cruz playing, er, whatsername, as I remember reading The Dying Animal and having a very strong image of Salma Hayek in my head. Roth does specify, ahum, large breasts for the character. It's even relevant!

theonceand 10th Aug 2008 22:25

Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth
I finished Professor yesterday. This is my first time to join in a discussion like this and my first time to read Roth. According to my very vague system, I gave the book 3.5 stars.

I'm glad to read that others found Kepesh to be less than humorous. To borrow words, I found the character Kepesh himself to be "tedious" and "claustrophobic" in the sense that he is a narrowly developed character.

Save for the first part of the Fulbright section, Kepesh doesn't seem capable of irony concerning himself or others. Or, when he sounds ironic, it quickly devolves into melodrama. For example, when he asks, rhetorically, toward the end of the novel, concerning his father, "Is there a man alive, I wonder, who has led a more exemplary life? Is there an ounce of anything that he has withheld in the performance of his duties?" The answer, surprisingly and without sarcasm (that I could hear at least), is no and no.

I enjoyed the professor's reading of Chevkov and Kafka and his musings more generally on the relationship between literature, reading, teaching, and desire. The lack of meditation on the notion of "fiction" and a sense of distance or what I was calling irony before, made me a bit uneasy. To what degree, in the lecture notes written in Prague or elsewhere (the thoughts on Colette, for example), does the "fiction" become metafictional?

Definitely an interesting read for me, at the very least because the name Roth is so frequently mentioned and discussed. I wonder to what degree, especially based on the posts so far, enjoyment of Professor assumes greater familiarity with Roth's preoccupations than I have.

margaret 14th Aug 2008 9:11

Re: Book 55: THE PROFESSOR OF DESIRE by Philip Roth
I was reading some reviews of Roth on Facebook's Visual Bookshelf application and found this brilliant one for The Dying Animal


sex view from old people perspective. Yuck!

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