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Inventing a woman


Living with the character you invent
Philip Roth Writer
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I like Sabbath's Theater very much. I haven't read it for about 10 or 12 years, and maybe when I read it again sometime, I won't like it, but I... I think I will. The energy in it is genuine. The comedy is genuine. The misanthropy is genuine. And a misanthrope can be a very funny fellow, so I learned.

[Q] While this is going on, you lived with Mickey Sabbath, I suppose. You know, you go to bed and you wake up in the night, I suppose. What's that like to live with somebody... you know, you talk about him as a finished person, which he is... you've made him. What's that... can you say anything about what it's like to live for a couple of years with somebody?

Yes. Well, you... you live with the... you invent the character and you live with the character. And the fact of the matter is that there's no one in this world you know, including yourself, as well as you know the... that character. We don't know people outside of books, of fiction, the way we know them when we either write the book of fiction or read the book of fiction. Everybody who's ever read Madame Bovary knows Madame Bovary better than they know any other woman in their life. This is the... this is the great charm and value of fiction, among others, and that is that we know in ways... the reader knows in ways he or she can't know in life.


The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Sabbath's Theater, Madame Bovary, Mickey Sabbath

Duration: 2 minutes, 1 second

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013