Saturday, September 8, 2007

Reviewing 'Everyman' by Philip Roth

This book is as dark as its cover. Philip Roth, the Pulitzer Prize winning author commences the story with family members and friends grieving around the coffin of the central character, before reverting to an account of the man’s reflections on his life leading up to that grave moment.

The former advertising executive and skilful painter is also a well known philanderer, who turned from a picture of health to someone who was inexplicably losing his health and his joie de vivre. ‘Everyman’ is a bleak account of this man’s retirement in which “eluding death seemed to have been the central business of his life and bodily decay his entire story.” (p71) The book is about the battle of old age but, as this character reflects on the suffering of the people he had known, their painful regrets, their loss, fear, pain, isolation and dread, he thinks that “old age is a massacre.” (p156)

It may seem that Philip Roth, this experienced American writer, is painting an overly dark picture of old age, however, the older brother is depicted as a senior adult who is healthy, profitably engaged in business and regularly traveling the world with wife. While Howie represents those who are enjoying old age, his very healthiness and purposefulness, instills within his weaker brother an envy which “robs the envier of his serenity and, worse, his realism.” (p101)

This books confronts readers with questions about their future, about death, about what lies beyond, while Roth presents his picture of ‘nothingness’, ‘not being’ or ‘endless nothing’. (p164) In a frank, simple and natural style Roth discusses the injustice of death, its unnaturalness but also the positive way it contributes to life a great intensity. The themes of life and death, losing and leaving possess a force of their own and Roth’s straightforward narration, brings readers into the inner sanctum of the man’s thoughts and feelings. The title of the book underscores the truth that while Roth is telling one man’s story, he is also presenting the universal story of our lives.

Philip Roth, Everyman (London: Jonathan Cape, 2006). This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 35.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Everyman.