Philip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint author dies aged 85

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One of the great American authors, Philip Roth, has died aged 85.

The Pulitzer, National Book Award and Man Booker International Prize-winning novelist’s work drew its inspiration from Jewish family life, sex and American ideals.

His works included American Pastoral, I Married a Communist and Portnoy’s Complaint.

The New York Times reported that a close friend of Roth’s said he had died of congestive heart failure.

Roth first found success with his short story collection, Goodbye Columbus, published in 1959.

A decade later his sexually explicit novel Portnoy’s Complaint catapulted him to notoriety, making him a celebrity in the US.

In later life, he wrote a number of highly regarded historical novels, including his 1997 work American Pastoral, for which he won his Pulitzer.

He wrote prolifically over the course of his career, publishing more than 30 books before ending his fiction career in 2009.

When Roth won the 2011 Man Booker International, chairman of the judges Rick Gekoski said: "His career is remarkable in that he starts at such a high level, and keeps getting better.

"In his 50s and 60s, when most novelists are in decline, he wrote a string of novels of the highest, enduring quality."

He also recognised that Roth’s win divided the Man Booker International panel, and had caused one judge to quit in protest.

"I can recall few of his novels that don’t provoke an occasional but overwhelming desire to shout ‘Will you shut up!’ at a character or his author," he said.

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End of an era

By James Naughtie, BBC books editor

His heritage was extremely important, and in some ways he wrestled with it all his life. The question of identity, which is the question which, in the melting pot of America, is always going to be the one that a serious writer has to grapple with.

Where do you come from? What do you do? What kind of kid are you growing up in New York? That was the obsession that took him right through his writing.

But in the end, you’ve just got to remember that here was a man who could write beautiful prose. That’s what carried him through. His death puts an end to a whole era of American literature.

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In 2014, Roth told the BBC he would make no more public appearances: "I can guarantee you that this is my last appearance ever on television… absolutely [my] last appearance on any stage anywhere."

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, his biographer Blake Bailey spoke of how much Roth enjoyed writing about the Jewish neighbourhood where he grew up, in Newark, New Jersey.

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Philip Roth died tonight, surrounded by lifelong friends who loved him dearly. A darling man and our greatest living writer.

4:19 AM – May 23, 2018

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End of Twitter post by @BlakeBaileyOn

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"It is ironic that he got this reputation as a self-hating Jew," he said.

"Philip despised anti-Semitism in all its forms and he himself loved Jews, he loved growing up in a Jewish neighbourhood. He didn’t have much time for the religious side of it, but everything else was just great."

Screenwriter David Simon – creator of The Wire – said Roth was "the great American novelist of our post-war world".

He is reportedly working on a television adaptation of The Plot Against America, a Roth novel that imagined right-wing aviator Charles Lindbergh becoming president instead of Franklin D Roosevelt.

[World News]

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