Portnoy's Complaint (Vintage Blue) - book cover
  • Publisher : RANDOM HOUSE UK
  • Published : 02 Jun 1998
  • Pages : 0
  • ISBN-10 : 0099399016
  • ISBN-13 : 9780099399018
  • Language : English

Portnoy's Complaint (Vintage Blue)

The famous confession of Alexander Portnoy who is thrust through life by his unappeasable sexuality, yet held back at the same time by the iron grip of his unforgettable childhood.

Readers Top Reviews

The most tedious ramble I’ve ever experienced. I had heard that it was a good book but was very sadly misled. It goes on and on about nothing with a few words you wouldn’t want your mum to hear you using, thrown in to try and make it interesting – it failed miserably. I kept going in the hope that it would improve but it didn’t and by the time I got almost half way through I gave up. If it was a physical book I would of thrown it away but as a Kindle download, that’s not possible, I will just delete it.
Martin JonesIan Jone
Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, published in 1969, is the story of Jewish American bachelor Alex Portnoy, as told in a long monologue, apparently to a therapist. The therapist is effectively invisible, saying nothing, serving as a device to let Portnoy talk. Sometimes a book allows you to identify with a central character. Since, in this case, the reader is identified with a silent therapist, there’s a feeling of being separate from the narrative, listening to this intense individual talking in ruthless detail about his Jewish childhood and subsequent relationship history. So what did I learn through my patient listening? There was some interesting stuff. Identity was a big thing. Much of the book is informed by what is to be Jewish, even though it’s also about trying to escape such labels. If I could get a word in edgeways I would have said that was interesting. Even more fascinating was the idea of guilt. Alex lives in a society which trains you to be obedient through arbitrary rules, often dietary. The idea is that when the time comes to follow rules that are really important, you’ll be ready. But by then you’ve been so confused by meaningless regulations, and so bruised by capricious punishment, that it’s hard to tell the difference between valid and ridiculous restrictions. So, that was thought-provoking. But why am I saying these things? This narrator wasn’t waiting for me to say anything. I was there to listen, not offer an opinion. That summed up a feeling around the book that I didn’t enjoy. Portnoy was so self involved. On one occasion he is amazed that a young woman is upset when he breaks up with her, because it’s really only his feelings that count. You can enjoy the quick-fire anecdotes, and laugh at the scandalous humour, but after a while you want to put the book down and talk to someone less self centred - someone who might actually ask your opinion: “How’s that Philip Roth book you’re reading?” “Well, thanks for asking. In my view, it’s funny, unsettling, sometimes nauseating, often interesting, and highly self regarding.”
Milo D
Quite simply one of the funniest books ever written and an insightful glimpse into the male psyche, Portnoy stands up to the test of time. While some of the references might be dated and it would probably outrage people in America, who have become even more Puritanical than in 1969 (an equal spectrum offender of the right and left), the novel is a primal (and uproarious scream) of male desire, guilt, confusion, and identity crisis. Of course, it's also about the Jewish experience in white Anglo-Saxon America, where being an "other" or an outsider is part of Alex's identity. People who focus on the sex--and there's plenty (and hilarious) are missing the point. If you don't read this in the context of a therapy session, where nothing is off-limits and fantasies are exposed, you are misreading the book. How much of Alex's storytelling is real and how much is pure libidinal fantasy? There are no answers. All you know is that these are his forbidden desires. The section in Israel, where he goes impotent, is crucial to understanding precisely why he is in therapy and why he finds his shikses so desirable--they are forbidden and precisely what Sophie Portnoy doesn't want for him. A brilliant book with unmatched insight into the need to feel in control (Alex wants to play centerfield) when the world seems so chaotic, confusing, and out of control.
BarryJennifer Chiche
I read somewhere that Roth resented being called a "Jewish author" - maybe he never had to read his own books! Portnoy, although filled with some good writing, is like a Jewish ethnography. And filled with cliché Jewish humor. And reading about a kid masturbating ad naseum had me throwing the book out after less than 100 pages. (Maybe they should coin a new word - "master bater" - for his character.) The book made him famous only for prurient shock value and I hated to think I was falling for the oldest trick in the entertainment book. If you want to read a great "Jewish author", try Saul Bellow!
Tom Quinn
This novel is peddled typically as the great novel of masturbation or sexual explicitness as if these constituted Portnoy's "complaint". But Portnoy's "complaint" is the demonic level of despair he has inherited from his Jewish upbringing, and his Jewishness. Stretched out on the psychoanalytical couch he shrieks this despair (he complains!) in what can be read as high comedy or execrable whine, or both. I found the sexual elements crass and very nearly inconsequential counterpoints to the horripilating description of family life. His portraits of mother, father, extended family, and a whole host of subsequent girlfriends, as well as his own self-portrait simply make the skin crawl. Like "the Monkey" and others I craved some demonstration of love from Portnoy but there there were all too few perhaps deluded glimmers. Perhaps that is the point of the relentless sexual aggression and sense of degradation. I liked his girlfriends, don't know what it says about me. I wanted to see them treated better while recognising literature has its imperatives. Oddly I read this book over forty years ago as a coy Irish teenage boy but could remember nothing about it, nothing, not even the frenzied sexual gymnastry, which should have lived forever with the Irish teenager I was. Returning to it I am certainly more alive to the broader chemistry, the familial degradation and the essential struggle to the sexual death with Portnoy's own inescapable Jewishness. This latter is really what the novel is about. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Portnoy's Complaint is having to acknowledge that written today it would be unpublishable; to begin with it would be considered far too sexually violent and mysogynistic. Writers, especially male ones, who want to write with this intensity of sexual feeling, will soon have to resort to illicit or pornographic presses, as did their counterparts of a century ago. But don't worry, we will always have "Fifty Shades of Grey". I was torn between three and four stars for this review. While quite early in the novel I felt I did not want to spend time with the people there, I do have to acknowledge the manic intensity and inventiveness of Roth's writing, and his well-earned status as a superior writer. It is not a novel I particularly liked or will reread but I do recognise its value. So four stars it is.