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Portnoy's Complaint

by Philip Roth (1969)

Portnoy's Complaint (1969) is the American novel that turned author Philip Roth into a major celebrity, sparking a storm of controversy over its explicit and candid treatment of sexuality, including detailed depictions of masturbation using various props including a piece of liver. The novel tells the humorous monologue of "a lust-ridden, mother-addicted young Jewish bachelor" who confesses to his psychoanalyst in "intimate, shameful detail, and coarse, abusive language." Many of its characteristics (comedic prose; themes of sexual desire and sexual frustration; a self-cons...

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  • Apart from Portnoy’s Complaint, The Catcher in the Rye also used the novel as a confession to a therapist. I believed I could hear Roth’s analyst Dr Spielvogel saying, ‘Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?’ The Bell Jar, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Fan’s Notes were all concerned with mental breakdown and the institutions devised to contain them. The monologue -free assocation’s respectable form – which I used in Intimacy, had been a familiar model for me. The work of Bellow, Beckett, Kerouac, Ellison – writers far more macho and less interested in women than Chekhov, Freud and the others – was really nothing but this. These writers worked during a time of political commitment and turmoil, but the writer was very far from being able to see himself as part of a group, however sympathetic he might be to the working class.

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