Everyman by Philip Roth

“But then it’s the commonness that’s most wrenching, the registering once more of the fact of death that overwhelms everything”.

Everyman by Philip Roth is a short novel that begins and ends at a funeral with a lifetime reviewed between the start and the end point.

The life in question is that of an advertising executive well past his prime, a man increasingly frustrated by aging and ailments who yearns for the vigour of youth and grieves for the human condition —  that “you are born to live and you die instead”, a man for whom religious belief has no comfort to offer: “No hocus-pocus about death and God or obsolete fantasies of heaven for him. There was only our bodies, born to live and die on terms decided by the bodies that had lived and died before us”.

For what is an essentially bleak essay on the human condition, Everyman is a good read — powerful, stirring, thought-provoking — a book that muses on death but is really a celebration of  life, that may perhaps inspire you  to think about your own life and how you live it, perhaps to atone as the protagonist’s father would have urged him to do, but above all to live with greater awareness of the brevity of life lest, at the end, someone might say: “Don’t you get it? You almost missed everything.”


Nemesis by Philip Roth

I’ve just finished reading Nemesis by Philip Roth novel. I’m not sure why it has taken me so long to discover Roth. This is his 32nd book and he is now into his 70s. I do recall hearing about, and perhaps trying to read Portnoy’s Complaint, but it’s so long ago I don’t remember much about it.

But back to Nemesis. It is the story of a playground supervisor, Bucky Cantor, during a polio outbreak in the 1940s. Bucky is 23 and about to be engaged to Marcia, a doctor’s daughter.

Polio impact

His youth struck me because the enormity of the impact of polio on the boys in his charge and the consequences of the decisions that he takes seem cruel in light of his youth. Likewise his anger with God seems to me to be a young man’s anger. It reminded me of Gloucester’s observation in King Lear – “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods, they kill us for their sport”.

Nemesis is a extremely good novel – short, straightforward, even perhaps simple and plain but it touches on some profound themes. I would say that it is definitely worth reading and that it is one of those novels that is likely to remain with you for a very long time.