Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth

October 4, 2012 § 1 Comment

There’s something about this book that doesn’t allow me to talk about it. Or at least, I can’t seem to find a good way to talk about it that would make any sense.

I finished the book a couple of days ago, and I still don’t know what I think of the book.

“Fun” is definitely not the word I’m looking for. There’s so much self-inflicted guilt in those pages. Portnoy seems to go through life with the label “Greatest Sinner Of All Time” grandly hanging from his neck. That’s what he feels like, and it just screams out of the pages. He’s thinking of his sins, and how he shouldn’t sin. And then he’s thinking, what’s wrong with this “sin”? Why is this even a “sin”? How about all the other “sins” that those other people are doing that are so much worse than mine?

And then what does he do to “repent” for all his “sins”? He becomes a fighter for justice! He does work for the government! He makes things right again where they have went wrong! All this for society! All this for the betterment of the people! So why does it still feel like as if he’s still wrong?!

How many of us go about our lives feeling the same way? Like as if we have done something bad or wrong, and that we should do something with our lives to compensate. How many of us feel guilt for some thing or other that we have said or done in the past? And don’t we all just know what it feels like to have guilt eat us alive?

One difference between us and Portnoy, is perhaps that he not only has all those feelings, he actually scrutinizes them under a super-sized magnifying glass! He picks at little details like as if they were as big as steel rods going right through his brain. He sees dust and thinks stone.

The entire book feels like a magnified version of a very troubled life.

It was a little too choppy for me. Sometimes I didn’t know who he was referring to, or which event happened before and after. I got a little lost on the timeline of things, and I also lost the flow for a bit.

But the idea behind the book – great. It wasn’t “fun”, but it was funny. One or two times, it was just hilarious! Most times, I would go, “heh?”, because seriously, what kind of person goes through this kind of thought process? And then you realise that you do that too, sometimes, just not quite so radically, and not quite so magnified. But you do go through the same thought process, idiotic and insane as it sounds.

And don’t we love books that make us feel like this? We read about characters that seem so out there with all their oddness and queer thoughts, but in actual fact, they are mirrors to our own lives, our own brand of weird.

And somehow, I’m tempted to think that we all have our own little Portnoy inside.

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§ One Response to Portnoy’s Complaint – Philip Roth

  • Mel u says:

    It has been decades since I read this book but I still recall all the guilt. The movie version is not bad. Thanks for letting me relive it in your excellent post

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