American Pastoral by Philip Roth

According to the blurb, this is Roth’s masterpiece. To which all I can say is… meh.

I don’t know. It’s a good book, a broad-sweep fat novel of the old school, but I wasn’t blown away by it. I don’t think Roth is much of a prose stylist, for a start. Perfectly competent, and sporadically rather better than that, but not one of the magicians.

And it’s just a bit… shouty. Perhaps that’s what the Guardian had in mind when they described it as ‘raging and elegiac’. He’s like the Bellman in the Hunting of the Snark: ‘what I tell you three times is true’. And he does say everything three times, hammering away at each point. Bang. Bang. Bang.

There may be a bit of trans-Atlantic disconnect going on here, but for whatever reason, this didn’t push my buttons.

2 replies on “American Pastoral by Philip Roth”

Wow, a “meh” to American Pastoral. It’s been a long time since I read this book, but it made an impression on me. Although, it was the first Roth book I’d read. That part, in the hotel, with Rita Cohen. That was great! I remember, though, that at some points I found that I wasn’t convinced. Especially at the high school reunion. Each character seemed to be too sure of their own significance in driving the plot (I realise this comment will mean nada to people who haven’t read the book).

I prefer that other Roth book. The one about the jewish guy, fears getting old, hates/loves his mother/self, brimming with sexual perversion… or is that due out next year?

I’m being pretty harsh about it, but you’re right, it does have some very great scenes. And it’s entirely possible that I was just in the wrong mood or something. But when the blurb informs you that a book is a masterpiece by one of the major writers of our time, you naturally have high expectations.

I think there’s sometimes a kind of mystique about American fiction in Britain, an idea that over the past 20 years or so the best American novelists have had a stature that their British counterparts don’t have. I haven’t been thorough enough reading novels from either side of the Atlantic to judge, but when I pick up a book like American Pastoral, I’m hoping to be suitably impressed.

I’ve only read a couple of Roth’s books—the other being The Plot Against America—and neither of them has really struck a chord with me.

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