Philip Roth has won the 2011 Man Booker International (click here for the announcement on the Man Booker Prize website, which also has a recording of his acceptance speech). With sixteen reviews so far, Roth is by far the most reviewd author on this blog, and he’s likely to remain so indefinitely since I can’t think of another author I’m likely to read who has as much work. Perhaps some day I’ll start reading the complete works of Joyce Carol Oates. At any rate, congratulations to Philip Roth, a most deserving author, even if he doesn’t need the money.

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By | 2016-06-29T23:20:55+00:00 May 18th, 2011|Categories: News|10 Comments


  1. leroyhunter May 18, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Strikes me he is a deserving winner, even though I’ve only read a fraction of the Roth you have Trevor.

    In addition to the usual carping about him & his work, I see an interesting little sideshow has developed about one of the judges (Carmen Callil) opting out of the panel in protest at Roth’s selection. Not very dignified but all grist to the Booker mill I’m sure.

  2. Liz from Literary Masters May 18, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Trevor, I hope you don’t my asking, but which Roth novel do you think is best suited for a book group discussion, excluding American Pastoral and The Human Stain? Thanks for your expertise!

  3. Isabel May 18, 2011 at 11:05 am

    Have you read this? Wow. Controversy. I thought of you when I read the article, since I know that you would not agree with the judge who quit.

    Plus, John from Asylum made a comment.

  4. KevinfromCanada May 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Why am I not surprised that the publisher of a feminist press would be the dissenting vote on giving Roth this award? As she said, in her view he didn’t even rate the longlist, let alone the prize. And whether I agree with her or not, it is not hard to understand her opinion. It does bring more attention to this prize than it has had before, for sure.

    I am not a fan of this prize at all — it is great that someone is putting up a lot of money for an author but does Philip Roth (or Alice Munro, the previous winner) need either the money or the attention. Would it not be better to find a way to channel both into the pockets and future of a writer who really needs both?

    None of this is meant as a put-down of Roth. I am not as big a fan as you are, but I certainly have loved some of his works, liked others and found a few that had to be set aside (Sabbath’s Theater — where I think the Virago person and I have similar views). And still have a few left to read.

    I don’t think an Oates project would be a good idea. You could do Damon Runyon and review him story by story, however.

  5. Trevor May 18, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Leroy and Isabel, I hadn’t seen that link until you brought it to my attention. I’m with Kevin in that I’m not surprised she would dissent. Cheers to the other judges who didn’t cave in to accomodate. And, like Kevin said, certainly this brings more attention to the prize and perhaps more attention to Roth than the prize alone would have. I’m also with Kevin in not thinking too highly of this prize. Not yet, anyway. I don’t think they’re doing much for fiction, recognizing already recognized authors and giving them money they don’t need, and seem to want to be a type of Nobel alternate.

    Kevin, for the forseeable future, I’m not planning an Oates project. Much as I’d like to read her good stuff, I don’t know what that is. If we went story by story that really opens the field up, and there are many who would destroy my Roth numbers. But book by book, is there anyone other than Oates you can think of? Perhaps Updike, but I don’t see myself being an Updike completionist.

    Liz, I think The Ghost Writer (my review here) is a perfect book for a book group discussion. It’s the foundation of my Roth love. Just exquisite. Putting aside feminist politics (which would certainly find much wrong in this book, but, hey, those ugly facts only make the book that much more true, in my opinion, particularly given the character Roth is creating here (that will run through nine books)), I’d love to see Callil show that this book lacks, even if it isn’t to her tastes.

  6. KevinfromCanada May 18, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    You raise an interesting point and I think I will concede defeat: Roth has written more serious novels (not all successful) than any other author of our generation. I would not be one to take on an Oates comparison (I have read a few and she is just not up to it).

    I was joking when I made the Runyon comparison but I do think it holds — in their own way, both Roth and Runyon represent writers who have captured a very important part of American history.

    I think I will retreat to the “less is better” hollow — Maxwell, Williams, Stegner. They wrote fewer books, they wrote them better. And I am just finishing Montana 1948 which is truly exceptional.

    All of which sets up a challenge. Is less better? Or does Roth’s continuing, almost relentless approach represent the better answer?

  7. Trevor May 18, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Oh, glad you’re reading Montana 1948. I’m excited to read your thoughts. There is a sequel, by the way, called Justice, but I haven’t had the desire to read it for fear it would dilute my experience with Montana 1948.

    Which I guess leads into my own quick thoughts in response to your question “Is less better?” I wish we had more books from some authors, but if it meant the ones we have become weaker by relation or because adequate time was not spent on them, then I’m all for the ones who don’t have such a prolific body of work. For Roth, I think it’s all part of his wild energy that is part of the work itself. I was a bit surprised that Marilynne Robinson was on this longlist (and, by some reports, the shortlist) since she has only three works of fiction out, but it would be hard for me to wish she had more, and also hard for me to say she didn’t accomplish in them (at least, in Housekeeping and Gilead) works of art as significant (if less read) than the best of Roth’s.

    Now, purely as an aside, I say above that Roth’s relentless output in some ways matches the content of his books. But looking at the last winner, Alice Munro, who is also still producing an extraordinary amount in her 80s, her work seems so much more peaceful, with all the rumblings under the surface.

  8. Lee Monks May 18, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    Delighted for Roth of course, who is clearly one of the greats, but this does seem a pointless gong.

  9. KevinfromCanada May 18, 2011 at 9:21 pm

    Trevor: It is a tribute to Montana 1948 that I have forbidden myself to read the last 50 pages for the last two days. I can’t remember the last time that I showed this kind of discipline — I just don’t want to end the excellent reading experience.

    I’m intrigued also at your reference to Justice because I have been wondering if exploring other volumes might lead to disappointment. Yes, I will get to them eventually.

    All of which does, in fact, presage a rare KfC rave review. I can’t thank you enough for putting me on to this excellent book. Maybe you should reread it and do a second post, just to get it back into the mix? I am pretty sure a re-read wouldn’t require setting it aside, which means that it is only a couple of commutes. :-)

  10. Trevor May 22, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    I’m not sure if it’s worth much, but I have been following with sick curiosity the Guardian articles that have been going up over Carmen Callil’s resignation, including her own “Why I quite the Man Booker International panel” (here). The comment streams have been fun to read as people debate, with or without knowledge, the merits of Philip Roth’s work, focusing on whether or not he sings only one note or whether he is too insular. Whatever. If you can’t read one of his best books and find anything of value, whatever. But Callil’s response is fascinating to me.

    First, in this article, she spends a few paragraphs talking about some hypothetical value the Man Booker International Award gives to both literature in translation and to general readers. “The international aspect of this prize is its critical difference: to search out and value other voices.” She links this to literature in translation: “This was especially important to me because I believe that we live in a times when English-speaking readers need — and want — the access that speakers of other languages have to such books: fewer writers are translated into English than into any other language.” Surely that last sentence is not true, but in its general sense it hits the mark, and is something I’m sympathetic to. But Callil was part of a jury that, in a list of 13 finalists, put in 8 who write in English. She apparently spent the last 18 months doing “considerable” research into writers “of China, Africa, India, Pakistan, the Arab World, Sri Lanka, the Carribean and more,” and they “read novelists ranging through the well-known and lesser known writers from Europe, South America, the US, Asia, Israel, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.” Well, if they ever had as a goal to get lesser known authors into the hands of readers, they failed in a major way — a major way! Or she failed to get her judges to come around, which seems to be her major gripe.

    She regrets that the award was given to another North American author, while making sure to mention how great (and it’s true) Alice Munro is, the last winner who was also from North America — Canada to be exact. However, she goes on to say that any “other of the 13 would have been exciting choices for the readers for whom judges work. Any other of the 13 would have been acceptable to me.” Nevermind that two of the others are also from the U.S., writing in English, with no real need for further publicity. Nevermind that one other is from Canada, where the last winner was from.

    So it seems to me it does come down, regardless of how she puts it, to Philip Roth. And it isn’t because he’s been labeled a misogynist and Calill founded Virago Press, a feminist press, in the 1970s (the press that published Roth’s ex-wife’s scathing account of their marriage, albeit after Callil was no longer at the helm). Interestingly, Callil says in another article in The Guardian (here) that these connections simply are not true. “This kerfuffle is an ad feminam attack from the boys and, of course, the odd girl, but mainly its a boyzones attack.” Again, whatever. But what I find baffling is this: “I may have founded Virago 40 years ago but I’m a creature of books, of writing . . . It never occurred to me and it comes as a surprise to me. I’d no idea — and I’m nearly 73 for goodness sake — I had no idea that his work was objected to because he is seen as a misogynist.”

    I have a hard time believing this. I knew Roth was objected to because he is seen as a misogynist when I was 15 years old and hadn’t even opened a Roth book. Doesn’t everyone who even knows someone who is a creature of books know Roth’s reputation? If it is true, then I can’t believe she was capable of reading his works in the first place.

    I really don’t care that she left the panel, and I don’t care if it is because she has a deep personal hatred of Philip Roth or that she really thinks he’s simply wearing the Emperor’s new clothes. She has the right to have her “puff of indignation,” whether it is wise or not.

    I just don’t think she’s being entirely honest here. Especially when at the end of the first article linked to here she says, “Hard to admire him, hard to see him on the long list, hard to award him this international prize. But I could have done it — after all, I am used to the mysteries of other people’s tasts — had it not been for the following: during the past 18 months favourite writers of each of us bit the dust because one or other of the three judges did not care for them, did not think them fine novelists.”

    I really can’t figure out what she’s saying. It seems that she could have stood awarding this to Roth had she gotten on better with her fellow judges. Again, fair enough, but then why all this talk about literary merit, literature in translation, helping the reader? They seem like easy things to say when really she’s just thrown an embarassing fit over the judges.

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