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Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth

Portnoy's Complaint (original 1969; edition 1994)

by Philip Roth

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5,05995890 (3.65)167
Title:Portnoy's Complaint
Authors:Philip Roth
Info:Vintage (1994), Edition: international, Paperback, 289 pages
Collections:Your library

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Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)


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English (82)  Italian (6)  Spanish (3)  Catalan (1)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  Hebrew (1)  All languages (95)
Showing 1-5 of 82 (next | show all)
I picked up this book completely ignorant of its content, When I realised it was a first-person Jewish introspection I was concerned it would be a tedious ramble, reminiscent of Jacobson's The Finkler Question. I was pleasantly surprised; I found this book hilarious. I thought the ending was weak, but enjoyed how Portnoy spent his time complaining about traits in his mother that he himself possessed. ( )
  martensgirl | Jul 21, 2014 |
Most people will, by now, have seen the neurotic, self-loathing/loving, Jew with mommy issues schtick somewhere before, so "Portnoy's Complaint" may not pack as potent a punch as it originally did in 1969. Regardless, Roth's book feels like the best, most authentic version of said schtick that I've read or watched anywhere. I'm not a big Woody Allen guy, but Roth is kind of like a darker, better Woody Allen.

In case you don't already know what the book is about and haven't read the description, it's basically the narrator rambling to his psychiatrist (the psychiatrist has one line in the entire book) about his sexual desires, repressions, motivations, etc., many of which are influenced by his Jewish upbringing and the presence of his overbearing mother.

I thought most of the book was very, very funny. I laughed sympathetically at the characters that the narrator was complaining about, while often laughing simultaneously AT the narrator for getting so worked up about things.

I've seen/heard people complain about gratuitous depictions of sex and masturbation. One of the book's main themes is the narrator's simultaneous sexual obsession, guilt, and self-repression, so yeah, there are some sex scenes and some masturbation scenes. A couple of the sex scenes do get a little adventurous, but it's probably nothing you've never heard of before. In fact, if you've A) masturbated and B) had sex (these should both be prerequisites to reading "Portnoy's Complaint"), you're probably not too prudish for anything in here. It's a bit of a shame that the book has a reputation for sexual outrageousness, because it contains some of the most genuine descriptions of sexual desires and motivations.

The only weak point of the book for me was the ending, which seemed a bit rushed and not all that strongly connected to the rest of the book. However, given that the book is basically comic ramblings about a horny kid growing up and trying to deal with his stereotypically shrewish Jewish mother, the plot was never a focus and the end was always going to feel a little abrupt. All in all, it's well worth reading for the humor, the depiction of growing up Jewish in 20th century Newark, and the honest exploration of sexual motivations. ( )
2 vote Reed21 | Jul 17, 2014 |
This has been on my bookshelf for 30 years. I think I would have found it funnier if I'd read it then, Alex just came across as a whinger. ( )
  MsStephie | Jul 12, 2014 |
Dare I even admit that I’ve read this book? It is a grown man’s tirade to his psychiatrist... approximately eight hours non-stop of perverse mental diarrhea. As the “forward” says: Portnoy’s complaint is about “acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus” which result in shame and dread. And he’s Jewish. A good portion of his angst is caused by hating his religion, hating his weak father, hating his overbearing mother, hating Christians, and hating himself.... his hairy body, his long beak of a nose, his upbringing and his accent. The only thing that matters to him - from the age of four until he finally consults the psychiatrist at age thirty-three - is his own physical pleasure, and no amount of debauchery is ever enough.

Had Roth been an artist, he might have smeared a canvas with feces, framed it in an ornate gilded frame, and titled it “My Great Jewish Masterpiece”. Would the public then have gazed at it and pondered, “Isn’t that profound!”

It reminds me of a quote from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead (Pg 461) “The person who loves everybody and feels at home everywhere is the true hater of mankind. He expects nothing of men, so no form of depravity can outrage him.” I expected better of Roth, and I am outraged.
In fact, Philip Roth reminds me of a character from "The Fountainhead" - a disciple of Ellsworth Toohey, the influential evil arts critic, who runs the Council of American Writers. Ellsworth’s primary goal is to have dominance over people so he can destroy greatness and watch the human race sink to the lowest level. Thus he promotes writers (like Philip Roth) and encourages mediocrity (like Portnoy’s Complaint) and gets great enjoyment out of watching the public follow like blind sheep in praising the drivel as fine literature.

Yes, there are a few funny lines, one or two comical scenes, and a smattering of artistic chutzpah. If you have the perseverance to shovel through all the dirt you may see that underneath it all, Roth may have been a talented writer... which makes "Portnoy’s Complaint" even more disappointing.

And I don’t understand all the literary comparisons to Seinfeld, and Larry David... they both exploited a little of the Jewish guilt in their TV shows, and the self-depreciating whiny characters they portrayed were vaguely similar to the self-pitying tirades of Portnoy, and they too are proclaimed atheists, but Seinfeld and David are saints compared to Portnoy. Portnoy was angry at the world, and deranged - pursuing his obsessive physical pleasure like a rabid dog - described in the book in painful detail - over and over and over.

I believe good literature is supposed to add value to your personal knowledge and your life. I don’t see the need (or have the desire) to know how many ways a young man can masturbate, perform contemptuous sex acts, and spew demoralizing crude, filthy hatred for everyone and everything in his life, especially his sexual partners… after he has finished exploiting them.

I suspect Philip Roth had his own psychological issues, but that is no excuse. "Portnoy’s Complaint" is pure smut. How it ended up as number 52 on the Modern Library list of greatest novels is a pure mystery. Is it possible there is a real Elsworth Toohey on the Modern Library board? Have they no shame? And is "Portnoy’s Complaint" (as are some of his other novels) semi-autobiographical? Has Philip Roth no pride? Or are many of America’s readers Portnoys themselves? ( )
  LadyLo | May 29, 2014 |
Thank FSM I finished this book. Maybe I'm not smart enough. Maybe I don't do well with this particular style of literature but dear lord! It's the rambling of a madman... more or less. Consumed and obsessed by his own sexuality blaming first his mother and then his 'girlfriend' for the 'mania' that possesses him. I'll admit. The last few lines were pretty funny. ( )
  steadfastreader | Mar 18, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (27 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Roth, Philipprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fontcuberta i Gel, JoanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoog, ElseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679756450, Paperback)

Along with Saul Bellow's Herzog, Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint defined Jewish American literature in the 1960s. Roth's masterpiece takes place on the couch of a psychoanalyst, an appropriate jumping-off place for an insanely comical novel about the Jewish American experience. Roth has written several great books--Goodbye, Columbus and When She Was Good among them, but it is perhaps Portnoy's Complaint for which he is best known.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:04:32 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Philip Roth's bestselling novel, which takes the form of a monologue featuring the confession of a comic character who is thrust through life by his unappeasable sexuality, yet at the same time held back by the iron grip of his unforgettable childhood.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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