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What do I make of life?


Sex and The Humbling
Philip Roth Writer
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The... I don't remember the... oh, there's a very, almost pseudo-lyrical description of the... of the threesome having sex in The Humbling. I shouldn't say pseudo-lyrical, I should say quasi-lyrical. I don't remember that very well, but I do know that confronted with... with it, with the situation, the two women and the man, I had to figure out how to write it, and how to capture what was most intriguing for him to witness.

I have a... there's a threesome... this is not my spécialité, but there is a threesome also in Sabbath's Theater which is very funny. And not at all like what I was after in The Humbling. In The Humbling, it's dark and... and unusual... it's unusual. It isn't... it's a very small element in the book. I like the scene before that where they're sitting having dinner at a restaurant and he... he walks over to the bar to do something and he sees this woman sitting by herself getting drunk and he walks back to his table and says to... what's her name, the character? It doesn't matter. He says to his lady-friend – who is a lesbian, he's having an affair with a lesbian. He says, 'I've got something for you' and he walks her over to the bar and holds her around, standing behind her and they... they walk... they look at the woman... young woman he's thinking about for them... for her, and she begins to tremble with the excitement. And I like that detail very much, so I wanted to be extreme and accurate.


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: The Humbling

Duration: 2 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013