Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Rejected Rhinos, Roth's Writings.

A friend writes to say that, had she not already seen it when I gave her a sneak preview, she would want to see the rest of 'The Replacement Rhino'. Other than that, not the slightest flicker of interest from anybody, so I shall not bore you with the next instalment, but turn instead to one of America's finest writers.

Philip Roth's first novel, 'Goodbye Columbus', was only just long enough, at 100 pages in paperback format and a usual font, to qualify as one. So the American publishers included five short stories, the best of which are 'The Conversion of the Jews' and 'Eli the Fanatic'. Very noticeable in these stories is their Jewishness. Not just in subject matter, though both are about Jews and the oddities of assimilation in or separation from a gentile society. They have the typically self-mocking Jewish humour we know from the kind of 'Jew jokes' told by Jews themselves, typified by the apocryphal 'Oedipus Schmoedipus, who cares so long as he loves his mum.' I recommend them both to those who have read his later 'faction' or 'alternative history' books and those who have never read Roth. The later books - not all of them, but certainly the best-known ones - have an earnestness that, as in D.H. Lawrence's novels, detracts from their value as literature, but these two early stories have a lightness of touch that makes any 'message' creep up on one rather than bash one over the head. They are also, of course, very funny.

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