Tuesday, June 26, 2007

philip roth

The opening scene of ‘Everyman’ takes place in a graveyard. (I immediately thought of Ian McEwan’s ‘Amsterdam’): This is how it begins:
“Around the grave in the rundown cemetery were a few of his former advertising colleagues from New York, who recalled his energy and originality and told his daughter, Nancy, what a pleasure it had been to work with him”.
The author has said this is a novel about illness, death and fear. ‘Everyman’ is a compact novel of 180 pages with dense and sometimes hard to digest images, not because of its style, which is quick and accessible, but because it conveys very concisely the feeling of loss and despair anyone has felt when losing someone close to one. So far, this is my favorite Roth novel. Some quotations from an interview that I edited ahead:

“Everyman is the name of a line of English plays from the 15th century, allegorical plays, moral theatre. They were performed in cemeteries, and the theme is always salvation. The classic is called Everyman, it's from 1485, by an anonymous author. It was right in between the death of Chaucer and the birth of Shakespeare. The moral was always 'Work hard and get into heaven', 'Be a good Christian or go to hell'. Everyman is the main character and he gets a visit from Death. He thinks it's some sort of messenger, but Death says, 'I am Death' and Everyman's answer is the first great line in English drama: 'Oh, Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind.' When I thought of you least. My new book is about death and about dying. Well, what do you think?"
"Are you afraid of dying?"
"Yes, I'm afraid. It's horrible… What else could I say? It's heartbreaking. It's unthinkable. It's incredible. Impossible."
"Do you think a lot about death?"
"I was forced to think about it all the time when I wrote this book. I spent two whole days in a cemetery to see how they dig the holes. For years I had decided never to think about death. I have seen people die, of course, my parents, but it wasn't until a good friend of mine died in April that I experienced it as completely devastating. He was a contemporary. It doesn't say so in the agreement I signed, I didn't see that page in the contract, you know. As Henry James said on his deathbed: 'Ah, here it comes, the big thing.'"
"You said that you're afraid of dying. You're 72 years old. What are you afraid of?"
"Oblivion. Of not being alive, quite simply, of not feeling life, not smelling it. But the difference between today and the fear of dying I had when I was 12, is that now I have a kind of resignation towards reality. It no longer feels like a great injustice that I have to die… I'm exactly the opposite of religious…I'm anti-religious. I find religious people hideous. I hate the religious lies. It's all a big lie…I have such a huge dislike. It's not a neurotic thing, but the miserable record of religion. I don't even want to talk about it, it's not interesting to talk about the sheep referred to as believers. When I write, I'm alone. It's filled with fear and loneliness and anxiety - and I never needed religion to save me."

No comments: