Philip Roth, Deception
At last, a literary breeze. OK, literary
, qualify that term. Well, it is strange (or rather, comforting) for all us pretend- wannabe- and manqué-writers that a book comprising of little more than notes and short vignettes can get published as a novel/story. Having a name helps, true. Having great dialogue helps too. Riding on the implication of a lot of sex, even better. Though ultimately this ain’t a novel in the Balzac sense (ah, now there’s
a novelist), it’s still a lot of fun to read, a breezy read easily taken in a single sitting (say, of an evening one’s forgotten the house keys and the lady is several hours away). As a transition work, Deception
plays and enrages the idea of unreliable narrator as he morphs through the mirrors of fiction. Deception of the lover’s husbands or deception of the reader’s interpretation, like. It consciously sits between some of Roth’s major novels so it’s got great bibliographical/contextual value and biographer-baiting; but for us wannabes it’s far more interesting to tune into the writer’s mind at work: to intuit his literary sensibility and the awareness of what will work as drama on the page; the traps and incongruities of a life lead literarily, or noted directly; and the strange fluidity between private and real experience and the written imaginative representation. To hear Roth try things out and ask for suggestions. Above all, to hear Roth the listener — he is an amazing listener and subtle question-leader — and this is of course central to his writerly sensibility. How many times does Zuckerman listen to heroes reciting their tale. The artifice then, with all these little pre- and post-coital whisperings and phone calls and private exhalations, is that we’re listening to listening. Again, the value is primarily of benefit to writers. Not because Roth reveals himself clearly at all, but because he gives so much of his technique away (if you know how to read for it). I also realised how acutely characterised his dialogues can be — not just in the broken English of foreigners but in his subtle modulation of syntax that differentiates the Brits from the Yanks, for egg. Exercises in brevity, easy pieces of dialogue, and another study on the pace and terrain of affairs. Though it won’t quite give you the sang-froid
of the average Frenchie in dealing with wives and mistresses.