Philip Roth’s encores are starting to look like one of those endless RSC curtain calls, aren’t they? While the other big beasts of his literary generation lost it one by one – Updike’s powers falling away; Norman Mailer’s late books going plain nuts; Gore Vidal not yet literally barking but on the way – Roth has enjoyed a flowering of late form barely seen since Yeats. And these little masterpieces are coming out once a year, if not faster.
You’d think it would make him cheerful. Not so, apparently. It’s an irony – albeit a trivial one – that a writer manifestly at the height of his powers is writing so insistently and well about obscurity, failure, thwartedness, and the collapse of talents and erections.
The Humbling is a narrow, bleak, oddly shaped book, which begins with the prospect of suicide and returns to it from another angle. Simon Axler was feted as one of the greats of the American theatre, but now, as he enters old age, his talent has abruptly and