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Philip Roth: Portnoy’s Complaint

If you enjoy a good wank – and who doesn’t? – this book may be for you. One critic said Critics believe the book’s widespread appeal is largely due to Roth’s insight into human nature, his gift for satire, his authentic use of Jewish-American dialect, and his nefarious sense of humour. How witty. No, how pathetic. Its appeal is very simply because it is about masturbation. Nothing to do with humour, satire or, God help, us insight into human nature. It’s dirty, it’s smutty, it’s naughty and, best of all, we can read and enjoy it because it is ART.

Do you want to know what it is about? No, not really. Well, it is a monologue by the eponymous (Alexander) Portnoy (my spell checker suggests porno. Who says Bill Gates doesn’t have s sense of humour?) who is speaking to his psychoanalyst. The book ends with the psychoanalyst’s first words – So…. Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?, Ha, ha. Portnoy is trying to escape from his stereotypical Jewish upbringing, with his stereotypical Jewish mother. As a result he seeks out Gentile women, when he is an adult, but, in his youth or when the women don’t work or his mother gets too much for him, it is out with the penis and jerk away. It’s all classic Freud and it is certainly amusing but, come on, guys, let’s face it, you read it because you wank and he wanks.

Publishing history

First published 1969 by Random House