Monday, September 30, 2013

Exit Ghost
Exit Ghost by Phillip Roth is pure genius.
It is reminiscent of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea,  a bit like Jack Nickelson in "All About Smit". The protagonist is a 71 year old writer who has been in the Berkshires for 11 years then comes back into New York where he meets his past and his present. He is coming to terms with aging, the death and decline of friends and the young.  
Naturally, there is a young woman but there's also an old woman who was a young woman from his past. There's marvellous architecture in the novel and the use of language in complexity and simplicity is astonishingly gifted, skillful and talented.
I read Phillip Roth years ago. I'd liked him then but don't remember the novel I read and didn't go onto read any more.  I read all of Singer's short stories. I read all of Sommerset Maugham, Doystoyevski and recently Michael Crighton. But I read just one Phillip Roth till Exit Ghost.  I thought Phillip Roth, an elitist academic intellectual with a potty mouth.  He's all of that but so much more.  He's Hardy and Lawrence and Kierkegaard.
I'd thought Phillip Roth's writing very clever and New York, an urban Jew.  At the time I liked urban Jews and New York writers.  I think I saw all of Woody Allen's movies and still think Leonard Cohen, Canada's greatest poet.  Joni Mitchell is a better song writer by far and Gordon Lightfoot is more Canadian.  I loved Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.  
it's just that I decided I wanted to read other Americans from other parts of the country. I'm still reading Carl Hiiansen. I've loved all of Walker Percy, especially, Lost in the Cosmos. Falkner is so different from Fitzgerald. Then there's California too.
Truly I'm more likely to read a thriller these days.  I guess Exit Ghost is that as well. It's dialogue is spotless.  Phillip Roth excels in characterization. His discussions  are definitely New Yorker.  I love his sophisticated wit.  But reading Exit Ghost I was moved mostly by his sensitivity.
It's a mature book.  Like Old Man and the Sea is so much more than For Whom the Bell Tolls even though the latter was my favourite of Hemmingway's until Old Man.  Phillip Roth is a precise writer. There's no waste.  Each word and phrase have relevance to everything.  It's like watching a magician though.  I never knew where the rabbit was coming from or when the pigeon was going.  There were simply that many ribbons up his sleeve in Exit Ghost.  
And I'm older. So I understood so much of this book, this man's inner workings.  I loved too that the book dealt with the personal life and the life of fiction, how the two are truly  'separate but parallel.  Today we judge art so much on the basis of the personal life of the artist.
I thought of 'Spanker Johnson", my favourite historian.  Modern Times,  the Intellectuals.  Then it turns out this family man has a mistress who says he liked to be spanked.  I wonder now  how that influenced his writing of Churchill.
So who this man is in Exit Ghost is only in the imagination of Phillip Roth, but it feels so alive that I feel it must be Phillip Roth,  though it couldn't be, could it?
It's the most amazingly intellectual, emotional and frankly spiritual novel. I  think anyone over 60 should read it.  You don't have to be a Jew.  It's an everyman book.  I'm not sure the young could appreciate the depth of discovery that come with years.  I would like to know what a woman thought of it too.
Exit Ghost is very special.   Thank you Phillip Roth.

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