Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

The Omnipotence Of Caprice

with 5 comments

If you don’t subscribe to the London Review Of Books, you can only read the first paragraph of James Lever’s review of The Humbling by Philip Roth online but that is probably all you need:

Here’s a novella of slightly over 30,000 very plain words – Philip Roth’s shortest book since The Prague Orgy – structurally straightforward, winnowed of syntactical excitement, sterilised of jokes, rhythmically muted, baldly plotted, low on confrontation, low on tension, low on brilliancies and generally low all round. Here, the writing temperature has sunk below even that of Everyman: it’s prose as utilitarian as you can get without making the flatness of the style into an ostentation. It opens with a verdict, rapped out with judicial impatience: ‘He’d lost his magic. The impulse was spent … His talent was dead.’ The text that follows is so shorn of obvious sorcery that you’re tempted to read the first four words half as a challenge, daring you to think the verdict is autobiographical – a prophecy or a lament. Or a boast: the magic hasn’t been lost so much as abjured, like Prospero’s.

Except it isn’t. Lever’s review is brilliantly biting but also deeply knowledgeable and sympathetic and in the end he concludes that, no, Roth hasn’t lost his magic at all. Wonderful stuff and Me Cheeta has gone straight in the basket. If only the LRB only reviewed fiction…

Written by Martin

22 January 2010 at 09:31

Posted in books

Tagged with , ,

5 Responses

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  1. I do subscribe to the LRB, and what I want to know is: how is it that you are able to get your copy several days before I, a subscriber, do?

    Adam Roberts

    23 January 2010 at 11:27

  2. I’ve no idea – because I live in inner London and you are a member of the West Staines Massive?

    Martin

    23 January 2010 at 12:23

  3. The very idea! We moved to East Staines years ago.

    Adam Roberts

    23 January 2010 at 13:04

  4. Made it to Oxford yesterday. Just to provide another datapoint. (But I’ve usually read the bits I’m interested in online by the time it appears.)

    Niall

    23 January 2010 at 16:10

  5. I’ve read it now … it is a very nicely handled review, isn’t it? I especially like the way he ends one sentence with ‘…but I don’t want to give the ending away’ and in the very next sentence he gives the ending away.

    Adam Roberts

    24 January 2010 at 22:59


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