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The inception of Nemesis


The Humbling
Philip Roth Writer
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Years ago I'd heard another story about an actor who couldn't act; a distinguished actor — came out on the stage, and he was like me or you would be, you know — and he couldn't act; and the notion of someone losing everything like that is interesting.  And so I've been, I made... invented my actor in The Humbling — he's humbled. It's funny, in many languages apparently there is no word for humbled, so the book has been translated as The Humiliation, which is not what it's about. But he's humbled, and then he gets involved with this young lesbian girl who he… who he... who becomes heterosexual with him, which is also an interesting situation as well; and he loses that too, so he loses everything.

And I've never had a character… I think I've only had one other suicide in any book of mine, and that's in Everyman; and it's not the main character, it's a subsidiary character who is... husband has died, and is racked by back pain. But the character in The Humbling is the first major character I ever had who committed suicide; and I remember when I was writing it, I wanted to see if I could get there — I mean, could I... could I make the suicide inevitable — surprising, but inevitable — just as suicides are? And whether I did I don't know, but that's what I wanted to do. 

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: Everyman

Duration: 1 minute, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013