Group Read, November 2016: Portnoy's Complaint

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Group Read, November 2016: Portnoy's Complaint

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Nov 1, 2016, 2:22 pm

Our November Group Read is Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. Please join us and post any comments you have here.

Modifié : Nov 1, 2016, 5:21 pm

'She was so deeply imbedded in my consciousness that for the first year of school I seem to have believed that each of my teachers was my mother in disguise'.

What a first sentence! I'm in!

Nov 4, 2016, 12:25 pm

This book made me laugh and cringe! It's interesting to say the least!

Nov 4, 2016, 2:32 pm

>2 Simone2: And just for fun the Danish translation of the same sentence: "Bevidstheden om hende lå så dybt i mig, at jeg det første år, jeg gik i skole, troede at alle lærerinder var min mor i forklædning."
Looks interesting 8-)

Nov 4, 2016, 2:49 pm

>4 Henrik_Madsen: I can almost understand that, after seeing so many Danish tv series :-)

Nov 6, 2016, 4:25 pm

I am about half way through the book now and enjoying the humour. I particularly enjoy his childhood memories with his neurotic mother and constipated father! Not sure if the story line is going anywhere but its fun so far.

Nov 7, 2016, 5:09 pm

Finished this today. It is funny (a few laugh-out-loud lines) provided you don't mind pages of "below the belt" humour and various expletives. The story line doesn't really go anywhere, but I liked the closing punch-line.

Nov 8, 2016, 5:02 am

I read it about a year ago and I'm not ready to re-read it just yet but it is still relatively fresh in my mind. I agree Puckers that it's not really a book with a 'point' other than it's very existence.

I viewed it as myself, the reader, being the shrink that Portney was unloading all of his baggage onto and my job was just to sit there and nod intelligently at appropriate intervals.

Modifié : Nov 10, 2016, 11:50 am

I finished it and also did enjoy his childhood memories with his parents very much.

I also thought his relationship with 'The Monkey', the girl with the mannequin's ass but who can't spell, was described hilarious.

>7 puckers: I did think however, that the story went anywhere. Portnoy can complain as much as he likes about his Jewish parents and their traditions and beliefs and religion in general, he can fight it by dating goj girls, but he cannot escape his being Jewish, and even flees to Israel when things are getting out of hand.

>8 M1nks: I do like your thought of the reader being the addressed doctor!

Nov 12, 2016, 1:15 pm

Almost done with the book and it made me start thinking about what is actually going on here. It's more a hunch than an analysis, so I'm just going to throw it out there:

I can't help thinking that the real motif and the reason for Portnoy's babbling on the couch is survivors guilt in the wake of the holocaust.

Other things are at stake as well, of course, but it just seems to be moving around below the surface. Or is it just me?

Nov 12, 2016, 1:55 pm

>10 Henrik_Madsen: I didn't pick up on this, but an interesting thought.

Nov 13, 2016, 6:07 pm

I can't say that ever crossed my mind. Was there anything in particular which made you think this?

Nov 14, 2016, 12:24 am

>10 Henrik_Madsen: It didn't cross my mind either but it is a fact that the holocaust isn't mentioned while Portnoy grows up during WWII. Interesting thought.

Nov 14, 2016, 5:19 am

Maybe it shows how totally self obsessed Portnoy was?

Nov 14, 2016, 4:44 pm

It's a few small hints:
At the end of chapter Jewish Blues, Hannah very clearly says that being Jewish is also about the holocaust. And the paragraph results in this reflection: "... I felt like a monster , because she cries for six million - I think - and I only cry for myself. I think." (My imperfect re-translation)

There is also the move to Newark which is reflected in the travel to Israel at the end, where Portnoy becomes impotent because he can't handle the feeling of obligation to help build the new state instead of working for equality for everybody. And why is he - as far as I can tell - only having wild sex with non-jewish women?

Survivor's guilt might be pushing it but he is definitely torn between his desire to assimilate and his very strong Jewish identity.

Whatever it is, it's probably not, what he tells us. Like the psychiatrist says at the end: Can we begin now?

Modifié : Nov 14, 2016, 5:31 pm

>15 Henrik_Madsen:

Portnoy prefers screwing Gentile women because he's using sex to punish women, and obviously gentiles take a lot punishing for what they've (generally) done to the Jews.

His sadistic instrumentalising of sex (common to male misogynists, therefore common in general) is why he's incapable of intimacy (i.e. love) with his Gentile victims and also incapable of having sex with women of his own ethnicity ("sisters", mother figures).

It's been a while since I read this, but if memory serves this (sex is punishment for those blonde bitches) is practically spelled out in the book.

Modifié : Nov 15, 2016, 2:03 am

>15 Henrik_Madsen: I definitely agree on Portnoy being torn between his wish to assimilate and his being Jewish, but I don't see this as survivor's guild per se. I didn't interpreted it this way. I'll have to look into this.

Nov 15, 2016, 8:47 am

I am always on the other end of these group reads and this book was no exception. Boy I could't stand this book-- I don't care about Portnoy's mommy issues or obsession with sex. I kept thinking there would be a point in the end, but seeing several of you say it doesn't, I'm going to quit and move onto something else.

Nov 21, 2016, 2:27 pm

Finally got back to Librarything:

>17 Simone2: I'm not even sure of the interpretation myself! I still feel certain that his ramblings is hiding some deeper uncertainties, but after letting the novel sink in a bit, I don't really think survivor's guilt is THE theme.

>16 LolaWalser: Interesting - it made me rethink my own reading of the novel.

Nov 21, 2016, 2:39 pm

reading these reviews has me intrigued about this book - I'll have to read it now!

Nov 21, 2016, 5:03 pm

>8 M1nks: Given the end, the "punch line" I actually wonder if the whole book takes place in Portnoy's head. Have any of you ever "practiced" a difficult conversation in your head before talking to a boss/doctor/family member?

I mean, I kind of hope some of this stuff was not said out loud, to a psychiatrist with no interruption/comments from the psychiatrist....

Nov 22, 2016, 3:10 am

>21 ELiz_M: I mostly repeat difficult conservations afterwards, suddenly knowing what I should have said or how I should have said it!

But I can imagine that the whole book took place in his head, I don't even have the feeling he wants to be 'helped', he just needs to say what he's got too say, no matter what.

Nov 22, 2016, 10:40 am

>21 ELiz_M: >22 Simone2: I tend to do both - worry about some conversations which turn out to be unproblematic and fretting afterwards about those which unexpectedly took a bad turn.

It could all be in his head, I guess. I'm not sure he doesn't want help - there is a sense of him desperately hiding behind all his words - but he is probably not aware what others would say he needed help with.

Modifié : Nov 22, 2016, 12:07 pm

I found it quite interesting, the typical 'stream of consciousness' thoughts of high anxiety in the 60's, a time of sexual 'revolution' for a jewish man riddled with guilt. I enjoyed the descriptions of his parents - some really funny incidents there, especially dads constipation.

I liked the ending, after we've heard this verbal unloading of guilt & anxiety and we reach the 'end' of the story -the work of psychoanalysis is only just starting. Lots of psychoanalytic themes in it - repressed sexuality being the cause of just about every problem one has, along with mothers.
interesting book, I can see why its on the list, not shocking in this day and age but would have been quite outrageous at the time.

Modifié : Nov 22, 2016, 4:10 pm

The longer we talk about it, the more I like and appreciate the book. That is why I really enjoy our group reads!