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weekend! Tonight on the Book Review show.


Philip Roth, Michael Holroyd and The Gruffalo.


Tonight the long-awaited new novel from Michael Holroyd, spanning 100


years. It is a world which is about to change. But hasn't done so yet.


Will the Man Booker winner rise to expectations. From beyond the grave,


the final Gormenghast novel, fantasy, or horror.


The new Children's Laureate goes back to school. But, has The


Gruffalo overshadowed Julia Donaldson's other books.


Gruffalo is sort of like a nice bouncey, cuddley trampoline for the


other books. At home with the legendary American novelist, Philip


Roth. Wouldn't people be surprised to find that Philip Roth panics?


don't think so. Joining me in Glasgow tonight to


tackle everything from Gormenghast to The Gruffalo, are the literary


critic, Professor John Carey, crime writer Dreiade Mitchell, and Kate


Mosse, and Alan Preston. It is the long-awaited novel from Michael


Holroyd, the winner of the Man Booker prize has The Stranger's


Chlid, which spans 100 years in history. I met up with him to


discuss his epic novel. My first idea was to have a novel in the


Great War, with people who you would see before it and then some


years after and leave it to the reader to work it out what happened


inbetween. When it became clear one would be a poet killed in the Great


War, then the whole question of his literary legacy and his life, and


the different sort of claims that people felt they had on him clearly


demanded a much longer treatment. The way you have structured the


book is to have it in sections, with gaps of years inbetween, which


presents a kind of challenge to the reader. You have to work out which


characters are reappearing and so on, why did you decide to write it


in that way? It was clear I was writing what might be described as


a multigenerational family saga, I wanted to leave the conventional


family saga bits out, and concentrate on the significant, but


I hope not oversymbolic episode, the first one on the eve of the


First World War. The second one is on the eve of the General Strike.


The third one is on the eve of the Sexual Offences Bill, which was to


decriminalise homosexuality, it is about people living in those


particular worlds on the brink of change of some kind. You also


explore changing sexual Morays, across the century, affecting not


just the lives of the gay men you are talking about, but also the


women whose lives they touch, which I thought was very interesting?


much is unsaid and unsayable in the early parts of the book. That no-


one quite knows what other people are after. I tried to create a sort


of comedy of sexual confusions and misapprehensions. In both the first


two parts of the book. I think in the 1926 section, it has that more


relaxed, 1920s mood, of new sexual freedoms and also the kind of


Bloomsbury ethos of being very frank about sexual things. At least


amongst the younger generation. Daphne, is rather sort of caught up


in these rapidly changing conventions. I don't think she


quite knows where she is, or where she's going, in a way. She's


someone who lost her own father when she was very young and she


seems drawn to glamorous, but unreliable men.


"You don't mind if I kiss you, Cecil said dreamly. I don't call


that kissing she said, what would you call kissing he said, his tone


dopey, tugging her back into his grasp, with a mere flourish of his


sudden, inescapably grip. More like this, and he darted his lips all


over her face, allowing her to dodge her head a little, holding


her so tightly about the waist that she was slightly hurt by the cigar


case in his pocket thrust against her stomach. She found she was


giggling in shallow breaths, then we were in sobs and a child like


surrender. "$$NEWLINE The history is very much in the poetry of the


book, did you find it difficult to write that? The poetry of Cecil


Valance in the book, I'm quite sort of soaked in the poetry of that


period from my adolesence, I read a lot of Victorian and early


20tsenttree poetry. I used to write whey - 20th century poetry, I used


to write good poetry but no longer. There is this sense of how literary


reputations change according to the era in which we live, do you think


that tells us something about ourselves, the way we regard


writers of the past? Yes, all the writers were, and we are encouraged


to have an interest in the book, and at the end of the book, 95


years later, if they are mentioned at all, they are described as


totally forgotten nowadays, and very second rate. I have always


been struck by the comedy and poignancy of literary reputations,


that whole sort of secondhand bookshop world, bookshop stuffed


with work that is were once immensely highly regarded and very


popular, now no-one reads them or has heard of them. Do you worry


about that happening to yourself? Not too much. Not all of conceit,


but because there is nothing I can do about it.


Of course, a form mid-able reputation at the moment. This book


is more ambitious in scale Alex what did you think of the way it


spans 100 years? I thought it was a masterpiece, I think this is a


wonderful novel. Obviously you have the wonderful exquisite prose, that


you associate with Michael Holroyd, but you have this ambition, the 100


years where the hero is not this character, but a slightly dreadful


people called Aiken, he had the character's point of - Two Acres.


He had the character's point of view circle around it, and it


affects the people and the life of the people. It is about literary


reputation and the characters. about the structure, he said he


wanted to bust open the whole traditions of a family saga by


having the gaps between time? loved the idea it was a family saga


without the family or saga. It is about the ideas without it. I


started reading it with a cup of coffee and finished it at the end


of the day, I won't say how much wine I had by the end of it. I


agree with Alex, it is fantastic. The structure demands so much of


you as the reader. He doesn't give any of the sign posting that would


help by saying this is 1912, and this is 1920, he doesn't do any of


that. You have to learn, as you would if you wandered into a room


and listened to those people talking and you got their little


stories out. I think it is very successful, but it is demand to go


read. Did you find it challenging as a reader? I found it interesting,


in a sense, I agree with Alex, it is equisitely written, the flip


side of that, is sometimes there are too many words, in a sense that


I think we lose the thread of the story. I felt, actually n the


middle of the look, it is sad for - in the middle of the book, it is


sad for me, there were too many characters and people, and I asked


what I was interested in the book, I was interested in Cecil and


George, and do they get it on. I wanted to care about George and


find out about him. George is Cecil's lover? Yeah, but there was


so many character that is kept coming on. I kept thinking, step


out of the way, let's get back to George. For me the pacing wasn't


quite there in the book. I see what you mean. If you are looking to


character, I loved this book, but if you are looking for character it


is not exactly what you find. What Alex said it is equisitely written.


How interesting to Sayers about Valance, his own poetry in the book


is wonderful. Particularly about things, objects. When Cecil gives


Daphne a cigar, to have a puff at, she feels it odd, she says it's dry


to her fingers, but wet and decomposing on the lips, God, I


mean, it is the most sexual cigar, you don't need to worry about


sexual intercourse with a cigar like that! But if you say, why does


Daphne marry Dudley, for heaven's sake, ghastly men, well that's a


bit of a family saga, could he write it, he hasn't in this book.


I'm worried about people watching not knowing the characters the


Cecil is the poet. What he does so well, a little like Wolf into the


Lighthouse, is have the gaps inbetween where the real action


takes players you have the war and the aftereffect, you have what was


going on before. But I just thought there was this equisite linkage of


those sections. I thought that is what he did so well, I felt there


was continuity, the continuity is in the people, but also in this


sense of the aesthetic. I didn't find that all the time, I think


sometimes as a reader I actually got lost, I would have liked a bit


more sign posting, actually. think it is meant to be disorient


Tateing, one of the things the book is about - disorientating, one of


the things this book is about is the passage of time, appalling


things have happened, a woman dying of breast cancer. I still felt,


hang on where am I, I had to flick the page, I wanted more sign


posting. I read it in one go, that made a huge amount of difference


going through it. One of the things I thought really special about this


book in Holroyd's work, is that I think Daphne, - Michael Holroyd's


work is that I think dove knee, the people is written to her - Daphne,


the poem is written to her or not. It is a real gamble to make people


care about characters and get them off stage, but she is there the


whole time. Novelists have been criticised for focusing on gay men


but she as a woman is at the centre? It is about the wife and


the bullying, those section where is you thought it bagged, they were


for me the best. I was less interested in the final section


when it went back to this is what a biographer does, these are the


lives that were hold. With Daphne you don't know how she died. Also I


think the scenes that are set in the bank and Hollinghurst's father


was a bank manager, he talked to me about the fact that he used to play


in the bank after the customers went home. I described that to


somebody as a gauge on brain, that section, which wasn't taken in the


right way, perhaps. It is this very lovely Boris Johnson woi story. You


go from this - this story. You go interest this guy riding the


reputation of the guy before. There is something that follows through.


The Stranger's Chlid is out now, published by Picador.


Steerpike, and Nanny Slag, the Gothic characters of Gormenghast


have had cult status since the 1940s, now there is a fourth volume


from beyond the grave, based on a fragment written by Mervyn Peake,


but finished by his widow. In addition his daughter, Claire, has


written an account of their rather Bohemian life. And a limited


edition with Peake's original illustrations has been published.


Why has his work endured, we asked Dr Prunesquallor himself, John


Sessions. "when I'm all along by myself, all it lost because I


realise being lonely drives the splendor of the vision from my


mind." The world of Mervyn Peake's


Gormenghast is an English world, monstrously mutated, it has to be


conceded, but English nonetheless. For me it has always been a Baroque,


18th century world. Lord Groan and his gigantic wife, are all wigs and


Queen Anne care. Peake's sentences shudder with literary echos, hamlet,


Richard III, Milton, and painters too, Pyronase, possibly Esher. This


is the world I saw when I read Peake's world.


There was a strange puppet series broadcast in the early 1960s called


Rubovia, a liberally-chined king called Rufus, took the path of


least resistance when his nagging Queen drew near with his pet Pongo.


They had a ratty faced Lord Chamberlain, and a peculiar


astronomer and inventer called Mr Witherspoon. The world of Rubovia


draws deeply in Gormenghasts and the inception, and the characters


strike me now as displaying two aspects of the character I was


lucky enough to play, Alfred Prunesquallor.


I tried to find out why he was so called, with no success whatsoever.


I see genitalia, it is of a sex ladyship. The man is a car crash of


puzzles. He is sexless, then he isn't, he flirts with Fushia and


then Steare, he is at one moment an idiot, then an idiot ZAF vant, then


an idiot again. What is Dr Prunesquallor's secret wound, what


lies beneath all his bumbling and scruplously observed sub servance,


when I played the part I thought it would be due to loneliness, which


isn't helped by living with Hislopor kal sister, then I felt


the doctor - hysterical sister. I felt it laid darker still. The plot


in conjunction with the ub better detail has led to several copies of


Gormenghast flying across the world. There is little dispute over


Peake's mastery as a draftsman. Here his intricacy given bloodless


intensity by his vision to Belsen, left this actor, at least a little


daunted, when he tried to match the hypnotic and stigeon vision. Come


my only, through the Gormenghast of Groan, lingering has become so


lonely, as I linger all alone. have to say I was always more of a


Tolken girl, or were you part of the Peake cult? Yes I was. I didn't


understand it to start with. I kept being told that these were the


books. This man was a genius, Little by little I learned to read


them. I was looking for a linear story, I was looking for pictures


that told me about what I was reading rather than a different


universe. Once I realised they were nightmares, you simply had to enjoy


your ladyship because there was birds in her hair and cats at her


feet, rather than going where were the cats and why weren't they


eating the bird. I think his work has endured because he was a genius.


And the draftsmanship of the words, as well as the line drawings, the


beauty of those sentences, you could pick anyone out, and almost


put it down anywhere else and marvel at it. Can you immerse


yourself in this kind of fantasy?Y I don't read a lot of fantasy, one


of the things that really draws me in is the beauty of the sentences.


This real sense of escapism, when I read them it was great, it felt


like this completely mad world that was completely different. Why


shouldn't the world be mad like that, but underneath all the themes


you can tap into. All the themes around you, revenge, betrayal, a


sense of being confined in a world. Do you think there is a deeper


morality beyond the Gothic and strange writing? I read this as a


child, it was wonderful to come back to it. The first thing to say


is the vintage classics edition is absolutely beautiful. I do think


the morality behind it is this strange kind of radical


libertarianism, you get it in Titus Awakes, the most scary and


interesting of the novels, the third of the trilogy. The problems


is the human oid characters, they don't always have human motives.


Now we have the fourth novel, based on a tiny fragment of Gormenghast,


and finished by his widow. It is terrible, terrible, Peake's style


it beautiful and it never gets need to it. There are amazing lines you


come acorrection when Steerpike peers in through the window and


Fushia sees him, his eyes, he says, not so much eyes as narrow tunnels,


through which the night was pouring. God. Well Tolken never writes like


that, and he has a simple stupid moral about how industry is bad and


theshires are good. This book - the shires are good. This book is a


nightmare. You give it what meaning you like. The only flaw is it is


anti-social mobility. Steerpike is bad because he wants to get away


from being a skull air strikes n, Steerpike is Satan. He looks down


on the earth and shakes his clotted wings, clotted with blood. We learn


from the daughter's memoirs of some of the influence that shaped the


writing, particularly his visit to Belsen and the drawings he made


there? Normally I don't like to know about the author's life, the


text speaks for itself, I don't want to know if it was based in


fact, or that he used to play in the bank, I prefer to read the book.


With this particular memoir, I thought firstly, knowing he had


been to Belsen and drawn, that was a very powerful piece of


information. Also, I hadn't known, because I hadn't done this buy


graph kal research, that he developed - biographical research,


that he developed Parkinson's early on and severe dementia as part of


that. And that art mirroring life, the sort of disintegration, it made


for me, when I went back and read this beautiful book, I found tears


rolling down the cheeks. That horrific picture of him towards the


end. What interested me was his youth growing up in China. I


thought there was a parallel there with Ballard there, these are


people growing up in a totally alien and violent society, and had


a second alienation when they were integrated into Britain. He never


knew what anybody meant. They both are able to create the violent and


imaginative worlds. Titus Awakes is released on Thursday, and Claire


Peake's Under A Canvas Sky is also available now.


Silly old fox, doesn't he know, there is no such thing as a Grufflo.


There is barely a parent that doesn't know the book by heart. Now


the author has been made the Children's Laureate. I met up with


Julia Donaldson, the author of over 100 book, in a special location. We


are back in your old primary school, does it bring back memories?


definitely does. It brings back mostly happy memories. I did have


one teacher here who really humiliated me, because I was very


bad at knitting, she made everyone hold up their knitting, I thought


she would praise me, and she slateed my knitting and said it was


the worst kniting in the whole class. What kind of reading did you


enjoy? I have William's Happy Days. I loved Just William. There are 30


or so book about him. I modelled myself on William, because he was


very heavily sarcastic and had a wonderful way of saying, "huh, I


like that", I used to say that to my parents. EnI said I was coming


to interview - when I said I was coming to interview Julia Donaldson,


people said, The Gruffalo, selling over four million copies, are you


worried it dwarfs all your other work? I don't know if it dwarfs and


that is the right word. That is a cuddley trampoline for the other


book, a springboard for the other books. Just coming here today, I


popped into a couple of classrooms, actually none of them mentioned The


Gruffalo, one said Tiddleer, and the other was What The Ladybird


Heard, I dedicated that to this school. You have the new role,


children's laureate, following the steps of others, what will you


bring to the role? One thing I'm planning to do is a tour of


libraries were not only do I get children to act out my stories, but


I ask them to come ready with something they have worked up, like


a dramatisation of a picture book a class poem or something. There was


a little bit of criticism of you being chosen as Children's Laureate,


one children's author blogged that he had nothing against Julia, your


books are great, but he wishes they would pick someone more interesting,


every time I see one of the white doddery laureates on table, it


seems to be the stery type of kids fiction. It is superficial to


dismiss someone in terms of their colour or class, it is a very


superficial perception. Honestly, that's water off a duck's back for


me. Loot of your work with children takes place in libraries, but you


are concerned about the closure of some of them? Very much so,


especially for children. Because libraries are really the places


where lots and lots of children discover their taste in reading.


They are well used by children. Even very little pre-school


children, they can go to the library with their parents, or


their carers, delve in the picture books, grab books off the shelves,


the parents mighting surprised what their child's taste is. Without -


might be surprised what their child's taste is. Without libraries


we will lose a lot of them. Never mind the cult of Mervyn Peake, in


my office it is a cult of Julia Donaldson, when I mentioned I was


interviewing her many started chanting The Gruffalo. I was


listening to the interview and I was smiling it brought back my


years as a primary school teacher and the power of picture books to


children, and reading to children, and her work is extraordinary. To


cast her as somebody in a cosy world is crazy, read her books. The


Gruffalo is fabulous, its use of rhyme, rhythm, song, very cheeky, a


lot of drama, a lot of fun. What you have to remember is when you


are teaching children, you are teaching them how to learn to read,


but also enjoy reading, and her books do that. You are not exactly


the target audience for The Gruffalo? One the less it is very


interesting. It is about the power of the imagination, this mouse


thinks up a The Gruffalo's Child, and there's a The Gruffalo's Child,


- there is a Gruffalo. That book The Teenage Cracks t about the boy


being shown how to read Macbeth. When he has to get the literature


out. Also her answer was perfect.


This is not what literature is about. It is an often overused


phrase. She's a brilliant choice as Poet Laureate because of what she


said about libraries, we are having the principles of free and fair


access to education of books taken away under our noses. It is an


enormous issue, we will not be able to get the library service back.


The fact that the first thing she said as Children's Laureate is


libraries matter t could make all the difference to saving some of


the libraries. What do you make of her? This is five hours after my


usual date with Julia Donaldson. There is something relentless about


her. She's wonderful news. But aside from her masterpieces which


are the Gruffalo and the Snail snail, there is a lot of stuff that


is painful. The rieling Rhyming Rabbit I found it painful. My


three-year-old skoon didn't like it, he scratched the glitter off.


old for him. It was fabulous. Do you see it as a golden age of


children's books, are there are temptations, computer games?


think it is, one of the things the Children's Laureate does, is not


just celebrating children's authors is illustrators as well, people


like Anthony Brown, showing how the power of pictures, we were looking


at Gormenghast, pictures, how powerful they are in story telling.


The golden age now is actually for young adult fiction, I agree with


John, her teenage book, Running The Crack, I thought it was wonderful.


You have Philip Pullman, you have abilityy McGowan, they transcend


the genre of young adults, they are enjoyable as novels. It is an


incredible time. I will read the Rhyming Rabbit to you after.


can tuck him up after. There is an offer. From literature for children,


back to books written very much for adults. Earlier this week in


glaitering ceremony in London, Philip Roth - a glittering ceremony


in London, Philip Roth was given the Man Booker prize. We met up


with him in his home in rural Connecticut to discuss, death,


writing and loneliness. First of all, what is you're action to


winning the international Man Booker? Surprise. I didn't even


know I was nominated, my agent called and told me I won. You win


something, you're happy. You were described as irrepressible, what do


you think was meant by that? don't know that people try to


repress me. When my energy was rising and others were ebbing, I


think I was found energetic. I haven't had to be irrepressible, I


haven't had that many obstacles to overcome, some like many writers


but not that many. You say writing has to be larger, darker and deeper


than life, how do you summon your strength for that? Life is pretty


dark and pretty deep. It is all determined from the kind of writer


you are at the beginning. The ernestness you approach with at the


beginning, the seriousness that develops very quickly. You must be


interested in what you are writing. When I'm working I get frustrated,


and can't proceed. You can panic. What I try to remind myself, when


that happens, is that my goal isn't to write a book. The book is


unimportant, my goal is to write the sentence. In a sentence my goal


is to attach one word to another. I tell myself, like a child, that's


all you have to do. Is attach one word to another. And within the


word, all you have to do is attach one letter to another. So I reduce


it to its childish terms. I sometimes leaf through it and


remember, you just have to proceed one letter at a time. Wouldn't


people be surprised to think that Philip Roth panics? I don't think


so! Not now, surely? Well, you know, the panic is overstating it. I


don't run around screaming, but I become frustrated very often in


writing. When you can't proceed, when you don't know what to write


next. So I have this strategy to comfort me. One of the criticisms


that has been raised by Jews and non-Jews is, I remember one


headline, why does Philip Roth hate the Jews. Do you think there is an


element in American is society that doesn't think it is actually right


to either satirise or build on trophs among the Jew, even now?


don't think that Jewish readers have a hard time with me any longer.


The generation that did have either died, or have shut up. Or think it


is a hopeless cause. They are not going to stop. When I began I ran


into a lot of trouble. In 1958, I think it was, before going to


Columbus, I published my first short story in the New Yorker, it


was called Defender of the Faith. This story caused a sensation among


New Yorker readers, it also prompt the ceremony Mondays from rabbis


calling me an anti-Semite, and a self-hating Jew. It was strong, I


was 25. I just was out of the gate, you know. And this came flying at


me. But it didn't hold you back? it seemed to have encouraged the


opposite. What did your mother and father make of that at the time?


They never understood the charges against me, but they were troubled


by them. After Portnoy's Complaint, there was renewed attack, for good


reason, I suppose. I was with my mother one day and in her apartment,


she suddenly turned to me and she was very sweet, and conventional,


and she said, "Philip, are you anti-semmitic", I said what do you


think, and she wanted to know why they said it. They were


tremendously proud of me, even if I was anti-Semite, they would have


been proud of me, I would have been the best. It is said you are


unfliching about the Jews, you are very - unflinching about the Jews,


you are very hard on yourself? I shouldn't be. No. I exploit in my


background and history what is exploitable and go on. I try to,


cast a cold eye on everything. are very much the senior figure in


a generation of writers, many of whom are very close to you. Do you


feel their absence? Yes. The writers I suppose I was closest to,


as a friend, were Sol Bello18 years older than I was, dead now eight


years I guess. Bill Styra, he was five years older than I am who went


through a hell of an ending in his life. What was it you said last


night "they were all businessed and now they are all dead". Bill could


drink,'s the generation of writer- drinkers, these were the fellas in


World War II, a few of them were heavy drinkers, and Bill was one.


Was that the same for Hemingway? was the model, yes, about how to be


a writer and not be a sissys, and how to be a writer and be a man. In


their eyes. You were criticised for the sexual activities in Portnoy's


Complaint, and recently criticised for sexual activity in The Humbling.


Is there something about Americans that they don't like the idea that


we are all living longer and sex will figure in people's lives for


longer but they don't want to hear about it? It is an easy handle by


which to pick up a book. But in Portnoy's Complaint, largely it was


the issue. There weren't graphic descriptions of sexual activity,


there was someone who was, not unlike Congressman Weiner, obsessed


by sex. In The Humbling, there is nothing much to speak about, it is


not a book about sex. I thought there was a bit of a rage about old


age and infirmity in that? It is about a man in a decline. I think


he's in his 60s. It's about man losing things, it is about losing


things. What the effect on him is. The primary thing he lose, he's an


actor, is his ability to act, he can't act any more. The first line


of the book is, "he lost his magic ". Then he has an odd affair, but


passionate, he loses this young woman. And he can't take all his


losses, so he kills himself. I know rage, just taking a look at it.


have written when you are a writer you are someone else. You say you


are no longer a son, a brother and a husband, you can only be a writer.


You remove yourself from everything around you? I think that one's


ethical restraints, one's customary caution, has to drop away, so that


you can freely tell the story. So if you are being a good son while


you are writing, it is going to be a book by a good son. A book about


a good son is interesting, but a book by is good son is slander. So


I love that aspect of it, which is the freedom. Your former wife,


Claire Bloom, since we have been separated he has published a book a


year, you can't write at that rate if you have a life. He has a life


he wants, but it is not a life. I come here and I expect to find you


in splendid isolation, it doesn't seem like that? Well, there you go.


Do you have any regrets about things you might have done or not


done? You mean writing. Or family, you are clearly such family man,


when you write about your own family it is with a huge amount of


tenderness, do you regret not having a family of your own?


don't seem to regret that. It is a fact in my biography, I have some


regrets. It wouldn't have been a life without regrets. I used to


have a friend, who is dead now, an American writer, her name is Josie


Hurst, I remember her saying to me when I first met her, one of the


reasons I liked her so much. I was complaining about a huge mistake I


made in my life around that time. What was that? Oh, I married


somebody. That is just a mistake, something that happens. Josie said


to me, if it weren't for my mistakes I would still be back at


Souix City Iowa. I thought, that is true. So your mistakes propel you


forward. You are not alone among writers, but certainly fewer


writers in their 70s seem to be at the height of their powers. It


seems you have more in you now, and in the last few years, and your


write something very strong? really don't notice any difference


in the way I approach a new book, and nor have I noticed any slowing


up or down. My last books have been short. The last four have been


short. Whether a long novel is in the offing, I don't know. Does


writing about modern America interest you? The state of America


at the moment? No. I seem to be 20- 40 years behind. So I will have to


live to be 110 to write about 9/11. Which of course you may well do?


You think so. You come here then. Do you ever get lonely here?


Sometimes. Is that something you just have to deal with. It is not


that bad. Sometimes I get lonely, and then I think but I have no


friction. And that beats the loneliness. Can you not deal with


friction? Not any more, I don't want it any more. I don't want it,


it is a great blessing. You are assuming if somebody else was here


there would be friction? Yeah. It There certainly has been in the


past. I can understand how people coming here, it is very much your


place, it would be difficult for someone to parachute in? You know,


no, not really. The solitude can be wonderful. And yeah, I don't mind


being alone. Sometimes one gets lonely, but that happens any way.


It isn't attached to the place particularly. But you have been


here for so long you couldn't imagine being anywhere else. Will


you be taken out of here in a box? That may well happen. You would


stay here forever, though? Yes. Philip Roth, in 2011, embarking on


a new book, and when will we see it? I don't know, I feel no


compulsion to produce a book you know. I enjoy sometimes the work,


but finishing it, all that finishing it means, is I have to


start yet again. That's hell. you're trying to cheat yourself?


That's right. Yeah. Your You're trying to make this one last a long


time? That's right. What if you live another 20 years? I will be in


trouble. Philip Roth thank you very much.


So, John, let's begin with the prize, you were the judge, I think,


or chair of the judges for the first Man Booker, He must have been


a contender? We put out a long list of 18 names, he was in it. What is


your view of his work? Wonderful. That was a wonderful interview, it


showed his seriousness and his humour always go together. There is


a playfulness there? Beautifully playful. That is there from the


start. As early as Zuckerman Unbound, that unbounds, he flies to


where his father is dying, he reads on the plane how they discovered


the Cosmos, he his 50 years they will remake it. He goes to his


father and tells him about astronomy to lift his spirits, his


father says "bastard" and Nathan says maybe he said better or


something else. He's tragic and terribly funny, he's always like


that. For this prize he was a controversial choice, Carmen Callil


says he goes on and on about the same suggest in almost every single


book. She says it is as though he's sitting on your face and you can't


breathe, a slightly strange choice of words? A brave man. I understand


what she was saying, I enormously enjoyed that interview. I


absolutely think that Philip Roth is one of the most important living


writers. But I don't think he's the only one. And I do think that many


of the obsessions of his characters and him as author, as reader, as


character in the book, are of interest to men and not to me as a


woman. So I have read not all of his books but many of them. I go


back and I try. For this I read Portnoy's Complaint, I can see that


it's really clever, and I think that he succeeds completely in what


he sets out to do. But I don't enjoy the writing. I find the


relentless descriptions of ejaculating into socks just a bit


boring! There is a lot of that. You have to be fair. Not just socks, I


remember liver! I think Callil's suffering a little bit because of


the brilliance of her metaphor as well. I again have a certain degree


of sympathy with her, I'm an enormous Roth fan, I think he


absolutely should have won the prize. If you look at the recent


stuff, Exit Ghost, the Humbling, awful, these are not good books,


not good novels. And they are the same things, this very tired


linkage between death of the libido and death of the body. Then he


comes up with Nemisis, a masterpiece a beautiful novel, and


kind of makes Carmen Callil eat her words. Dying Animal is very good on


ageing, what he talked about there on ageing. I don't actually agree


that the later novels are all so bad. But what I also like about him


is how to take an enormous theme, think of a novel like Operation


Shylock: A Confession, or a novel like the one on lindburg winning


the election Plot Against America. A huge theme which he nevertheless


treats in an intimate and interestingly human way. That is a


collosal feat of the imagination to it that. It is about the narrowness


of vision, he takes the small town life in Newark and makes it


universal. I was thinking of the glove factory in America America,


it is this beautiful en- American Pastoral, it is the beautiful


engagement that makes it great. only read one book, The Plot


Against America, it stayed with me for a long time. Because of the


universal issues, but at the same time it is very, very personal,


from what I can pick up, from what I have read, he wanted to write


something about his parents in their prime. It is interesting in


the interview that he talks about not writing about modern America,


but some of the themes that he talk about in the Plot Against America,


like the suspension of civil liberties, what happens when people


are repressed, are so current. loved in the interview the


description of the process of writer, I wondered if you, as a


writer, would have imthee, the word one after another? I thought that


was just superb, that was a masterclass, everything is redeemed


by that interview. It was perfect. That is exactly how it does goes T


doesn't matter what sort of books you write, that description of it,


the other great person talking on this Stephen King, his book on


writing is like that. That sense mafpb who understands who he is as


a write - of a man who understands who he is as a writer was great.


The thing about ining with the prize is he will not win the -


winning the prize, is he will not win the Nobel but he can win this.


Great tribute there. Can you find out more information on all


us know your thoughts on Twitter, we digest them in the Green Room


afterwards, especially Alex. Next week Kirsty will be here discussing


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