Philip Roth Reads the Last Pages of His Last Work of Fiction: “The End of the Line After Thirty-One Books”

After half a cen­tu­ry and 31 books, Philip Roth casu­al­ly announced last month in an inter­view with a French mag­a­zine that he was call­ing it quits. He actu­al­ly made the deci­sion back in 2010, after the pub­li­ca­tion of his Book­er Prize-win­ning nov­el Neme­sis. “I did­n’t say any­thing about it because I want­ed to be sure it was true,” the 79-year-old Roth told New York Times reporter Charles McGrath last week in what he said would be his last inter­view. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute, don’t announce your retire­ment and then come out of it.’ I’m not Frank Sina­tra. So I did­n’t say any­thing to any­one, just to see if it was so.”

Although Roth had been pri­vate­ly telling friends about his retire­ment for two years, accord­ing to David Rem­nick in The New York­er, the pub­lic announce­ment came as a shock for many. From his 1959 Nation­al Book Award-win­ning debut Good­bye, Colum­bus and Five Short Sto­ries and his out­ra­geous­ly fun­ny 1969 clas­sic Port­noy’s Com­plaint through his remark­ably pro­lif­ic late peri­od, with its steady stream of beau­ti­ful­ly craft­ed nov­els like Oper­a­tion Shy­lock, Sab­bath’s The­ater and The Human Stain, it seemed as though Roth had the cre­ative ener­gy to keep writ­ing until he took his last breath.

But per­haps if we’d paid clos­er atten­tion we would­n’t be so sur­prised. In this 2011 video, for exam­ple, which shows Roth read­ing a few pages from Neme­sis after it won the Man Book­er Inter­na­tion­al Prize, he basi­cal­ly says it: “Com­ing where they do, they’re the pages I like best in Neme­sis. They con­sti­tute the last pages of the last work of fic­tion I’ve published–the end of the line after 31 books.”

Relat­ed con­tent:

Philip Roth on Aging

Philip Roth’s Cre­ative Surge and the Death of the Nov­el

Philip Roth Pre­dicts the Death of the Nov­el; Paul Auster Coun­ters

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