Philip Roth has retired. He told a French magazine that, at 79, he was ‘done’. There will be no more books. For the little it is worth, I think he ought to be a Nobel Laureate – American Pastoral stands as one of the best books written since the war about, among other things, the failings and failure of the post-war era, and The Human Stain and Portnoy’s Complaint aren’t too bad either. Roth is an obvious choice for the Nobel committee; but it is simply perverse of them to be scared of his renown, or even to mistrust it.
Roth’s retirement recalls Martin Amis’ view that writers die twice: the mind weakens, even though the flesh remains willing. Amis’ belief carries a negative, mournful air. Certainly it must be difficult to accept that one’s hand moves a little slower across the page; but writers should be thankful that, unlike sportsmen, they are not a long time retired. Roth seems to be positive. He admits that he has lost the fanaticism to write, which used to guide his every day; but he says he will be happily spend his declining years re-reading his favourite books. What a nice way to go.
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