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Sabbath's Theater (1995)

by Philip Roth

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1,967325,861 (3.69)56
The life of an old man who lives for sex. He is Morris Sabbath, 64, a New York puppeteer who made his name with lewd performances. Feeling death approaching, he relives his many amorous adventures in graphic detail. By the author of Portnoy's Complaint.



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English (25)  Dutch (3)  Italian (2)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
Not the most pleasant read anyone of us will experience. Just under 500 pages describing the purposefully repugnant Mickey Sabbath. While the more prudish among us will simply stop reading, those of us who are more widely read ask ourselves the question Roth surely intended: aren’t we really all like Mickey Sabbath deep down?

And I can’t disagree with him. Deep down, we’re all repugnant, driven by animal desires and a self-interest that is utterly loathsome at times.

There’s another question here though: isn’t Mickey to be praised above the rest of us because he is, at least, honest and, in admitting he is as such and revelling in it, lives the fullest life that he possibly could while we live in fear of our peers and confine ourselves to the limitations of their expectations?

Er. No.

And Roth illustrates this with continuous flashbacks in Mickey’s memory to long-dead war hero brother Morty who everyone holds up as the ideal man and is, yet, subject to a moral code that most of us would esteem – courtesy, commitment, honour, hard work, etc., etc. – all the qualities that Mickey lacks entirely.

Thus is Mickey constantly conflicted, on the one hand driven to anarchic hedonism while on the other gazing up longingly to his brother on the moral pedestal he’s placed him on.

Anyway, the novel’s purpose aside, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Roth wrote this novel simply to provide himself with a playground for experiments in obscenity. There’s a lot of distasteful sex, for example, described, as far as I’m concerned, in completely unnecessary detail. Surely this is one area where our imaginations need as little help as possible.

In all, this seems to be the antithesis of American Pastoral and it struck me that Norman, an old friend Mickey shacks up with for a while, is probably Roth’s prototype for the Swede.

So, while this is no doubt an important book in terms of Roth’s development as a writer, it’s not very pleasant to read, and I think you can quite easily skip it without suffering any literary loss whatsoever. ( )
  arukiyomi | Sep 1, 2020 |
Great literature but marred by unrelenting pornography. Hard to get through the shlock. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Apr 20, 2019 |
Sabbath is an unproductive, out-of-work, former puppeteer with a strong affinity for whores, adultery, and the casual sexual encounter. Sabbath takes great pleasure in his status as the (prototypical) "dirty old man." He takes an equal pleasure in manipulating the people around him, primarily women—in a sense, they play the same role as his puppets. The loss of a decades-long sexual sidekick—the equally adulterous Drenka—precipitates a crisis in a life he has long considered an utter failure. Sabbath wonders whether he should simply take his own life, thereby heeding the advice of the ghost of his departed mother, a frequent visitor who urges suicide as the fitting end for his failed life.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
A friend asked me what I would like for a recent birthday. I retorted, ‘Just go into a charity shop and pick a book you think I will like.’ A vague request to which a look of consternation followed, ‘What if you’ve read it?’ ‘Then I will probably love it then, and I will lie to you that I haven’t and pass it onto someone I know will love it also.’

That book was Sabbath’s Theater, and when he gave me it and I replied, ‘I have been meaning to read a Roth book for years.’ We were both happy. I set about the marathon read immediately.
When I write a book I always keep it as short as possible to tell the story, some of the masters/masteresses don’t seem to bother. Men are the worst because they have the confidence/indulgence/self-importance to go off on tangents, and this book has lots of those, which I love, but I know all don’t. This obviously makes the book longer than it need be, and if you, or more likely someone else, a friend, an editor, a writing group are being critical they will tell you to cut it out as it slows the narrative down. I still don’t know why authors plunge for a book that is far longer than it need be as it puts so many people off actually picking it up. The relationship is obvious between the length and finishing it, all the top 5 started and not read novels are for this reason alone, with probably the exception of Ulysses. The edition I read was 450 pages in length and point 10 writing, I summarise to try and fool a few more readers into reading it.

When I start a book I invariably finish it quite quickly, even though I read slowly and sometimes make notes. This book took me three months. Was it worth it? You bet, as I have stated earlier Roth is a master that has won every major prize in literature and for that reason alone you may wish to indulge. While I read this I could hear the echoes in other authors after and before; A M Holmes latter and Proust before.
This is a cracking read and it leaves you wanting to shake the main character (Mickey Sabbath), in the same way J M Coetzee does with David Lurie in Disgrace.

I would recommend this book as a great place to start with Roth, (or Portnoy’s Complaint.) I know a book is great when I don’t want anything in the world to interrupt the reading of the last 50-80 pages, this is such a book, for this reason I recommend it you… Oh, and thanks for the present Jock, 35 hours of enjoyment for £2.49, the whole world is a winner! ( )
  IanMPindar | Jan 2, 2015 |
Cosa fa Roth? Crea un mondo. Ma non un mondo fantasy: un mondo reale. Non verista: reale. Un mondo dove non vince la descrizione del particolare, ma *quel* particolare. Che spesso è assolutamente ininfluente - non è un thriller nel quale poi dopo 300 pagine capiremo che il colore di quel maglione era la chiave di volta del tutto - ma rende tridimensionale il narrare.
Poi, a questo mondo aggiunge personaggi le cui emozioni, pulsioni, fisicità sembrano oscene, ma in realtà sono solo trasparenti. La loro assenza in noi è solo sintomo di mancanza di coraggio - o di incapacità emotiva.
Poi la vita, la morte, il dolore, il sesso: quelli li conosciamo, nulla di nuovo. Ma vissuti così, raccontati così, non è da tutti. "Sabbath or a sabbath is generally a weekly day of rest and/or time of worship that is observed in any of several faiths. The term derives from the Hebrew shabbat (שבת), "to cease", which was first used in the Biblical account of the seventh day of Creation" L'umanità e la civiltà si riposano, si fanno da parte in questo vecchio Dioniso, sprezzante, irriverente, potente, libidinoso e primitivo che sbeffeggia tutti e tutto, forte di una creanza che solo a lui appartiene. Noi la possiamo solo seguire in un percorso che accompagna, con lunghissimi flashback, gli ultimi mesi della sua (s)folgorante esistenza. ( )
  bobparr | Dec 14, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 25 (next | show all)
All that rawness becomes a road to a deeper truth, and by the novel's end, its cumulative dose of human hope and woe had me (and again I'm not alone in this) on my knees.
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Every third thought shall be my grave.

--The Tempest, act v, scene i
For Two Friends

Janet Hobhouse

Melvin Tumin
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Either foreswear fucking others or the affair is over.
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L'ho copiato da un articolo. Parola per parola.  La rivista dell'Etica Medica. "Si propone di classificare la felicità" alzò gli occhi e precisò: in corsivo. "Si propone di classificare la felicità tra i disordini mentali e di includerla nelle future edizioni dei principali manuali di diagnostica sotto questo nome: disordine affettivo primario, di tipo piacevole. Da un esame dei principali testi risulta che la felicità è statisticamente anormale, consiste di un discreto conglomerato di sintomi, è associata a una vasta gamma di anormalità cognitive, e probabilmente riflette un anormale funzionamento del sistema nervoso centrale. Una delle principali obiezioni alla proposta è che della felicità non si dà una valutazione negativa. Comunque è un'obiezione trascurabile dal punto di vista scientifico."
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The life of an old man who lives for sex. He is Morris Sabbath, 64, a New York puppeteer who made his name with lewd performances. Feeling death approaching, he relives his many amorous adventures in graphic detail. By the author of Portnoy's Complaint.

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