Review: Nemesis by Philip Roth


Hi folks!

I am sorry I couldn’t post last week, I had an extremely busy week and weekend but to have myself forgiven, I am going to post twice this week, and it is starting now with a review of Nemesis, a novel by Philip Roth.

Having recently read and absolutely adored two novels from Philip Roth, American Pastoral and The Human Stain, I have decided to read all of Philip Roth’s novels and chose Nemesis to start my Rothian reading marathon. Nemesis is Roth’s last novel and it was praised as a masterpiece by many reviewers, a “shocking gem” superbly ending Roth’s career as a novelist.

Nemesis recounts a tragic and unstoppable epidemic of polio hitting Newark, in the United States, in the summer 1944. Bucky Cantor is then a 23-year-old physical education teacher witnessing polio taking away the kids of the Chancellor Avenue’s playground one by one, starting with his favourite pupils. Bucky is one of the least young men remaining in Newark at that time as he was not accepted in the army because of his very poor eyesight and could not join the fight in Europe or in the Pacific. He doesn’t want to leave the kids and his grandmother facing alone the terrible epidemic but his fiancée, the beautiful and clever Marcia, urges him to join her at Indian Hill, a summer camp for children far away from the contaminated city where a vacancy has just arisen. In these dark times of war, death and disease, Indian Hill embodies a pristine little piece of heaven… for one time at least.

I am quite divided on this novel. Even though I believe it is worth reading (I wouldn’t be taking to you about it otherwise!), I don’t think that it is Roth’s best novel, far from it. I found its style quite dull and definitely lacking the delicious irony and vivacity characterizing most of Philip Roth’s books. In addition, its plot is very very minimalist and clearly bets on the moving aspect — thus missing its goal with me, as the most I feel an author is trying to move me and the least I get moved, usually. However, a big and very surprising twist towards the end of the book boosts the plot and revived my interest in the novel. I did not expect this twist and it kind of blew me away. Plus, thanks to it, the novel reaches a new level and everything actually starts to make sense.

I would say that even if it is definitely not the most gripping and entertaining novel, it is a very very clever novel dealing with themes dear to Philip Roth and that I find especially interesting: the breaking points in people’s life, the loss and the decline, old age… Plus, it is quite an interesting book on the historical point of view. It focuses on a fascinating historic period quite close to us but instead of emphasizing what we know about it, it focuses on quite an important aspect of this time which is, I believe, unknown or at least not thought about by most readers. I did not know anything about polio, I did not know that this disease killed thousands of children every year until the 1950’s and I have the feeling that this reading widened my knowledge and understanding of the world that surrounds us and its transformations, and that’s quite a pleasant feeling…

What about you, dear readers? Have you read any of Philip Roth’s novels? Which one should I read next?

See you soon!

Nemesis by Philip Roth. Published by Vintage Books for this edition.

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