Philip Roth: The Biography

Norton. Apr. 2021. 880p. ISBN 9780393240726. $40. LIT
In the years before his death in 2018, Philip Roth was often acclaimed as America’s greatest living writer. In this comprehensive biography, Bailey (Cheever: A Life) takes on the task of untangling the details of the author’s life from his often semi-autobiographical fiction. Bailey presents Roth as a talented and dedicated writer who is increasingly sensitive to his reputation. Driven by his ego and his libido, Roth’s life was marked by his prolific literary output and his many romantic relationships. Bailey is a sympathetic biographer, often dismissive of charges of misogyny in Roth’s writing and clearly favoring Roth’s account of his fraught and highly publicized relationship with the actress Claire Bloom. This work is evidence of Bailey’s exhaustive research and unique access to his subject; Roth selected Bailey as his biographer, and the two had extensive interviews in preparation for the book.
VERDICT For an author like Roth, who put so much of his own life into his books, this biography is an essential companion to his novels, enabling readers to discover the true-life inspirations for many of his memorable characters and scenes. Recommended for readers who have read and enjoyed Philip Roth’s fiction.
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