The Omnipotence Of Caprice
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…