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The Holocaust


'What could outlandishness do for me?'
Philip Roth Writer
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The books that followed it, Our Gang, The Breast, and The Great American Novel, were also attempts at outlandishness. I... I was trying to see what outlandishness could do for me, you know, and I knew it. I knew it. I just thought keep going, keep going, go beyond Whacking Off. I published a story at that point called: On The Air, which is far and away the worst thing I've ever written. But it... it went so far, it went over the top really. My friend Ted Solotaroff published it in the New American Review because his magazine was doing that too. Every... Everybody was doing it. Let the impossible in, you know. Let the indecent in. See what happens.

And so those books all attempted to... to treat the material as farce, as... as wild comedy, as slapstick, and that's as far as I went in that direction. I've never written a book like Portnoy's Complaint again, except perhaps for Sabbath's Theater, which I think is a far better book. And I found the right character in this guy Mickey Sabbath and I found the right adventures. And I think that's the… that's the best performance I've ever given, really.

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: Our Gang, The Breast, The Great American Novel, Whacking Off, On The Air, Portnoy's Complaint, Sabbath's Theater, Mickey Sabbath, Ted Solotaroff

Duration: 1 minute, 44 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013