Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Review - Everyman

EverymanI was recommended by a lecturer in college to read the work of a particular author. I am sure it was Philip Roth, author of Everyman, among many others. If not, I can still be thankful that I found the book in the second hand section of a bookshop in Dublin for a decent enough price that I would be encouraged to find it. I loved the premise, and I subsequently fell in love with the book.

What specifically about the book did you like?
There were some little quirks in the book that got me, like never knowing the first name of the main character. (That's my recollection, at least). I liked that Roth used his title to the fullest, making his anonymous protagonist a symbol for the average American male of his day and age, a Jew living in America from the time of the war, an artist who has to go commercial because of practicalities, a man whose lust overpowers his love, a man who experiences illness and grieves the loss of loved ones, a man who just about sums up everything there is to be when it comes to being human. And not just him, but the people he encounters throughout his life, his brother, his children, his wives - plural, but he's not a polygamist -  and all the friends he has throughout his life. He was every man in every sense of the word, suffering from all their faults and living with the same doubts and fears and regrets as everyone. The characterisation of the protagonist was just stunning and perfect, and I don't think Roth could have done himself any more justice in this book if he tried.

Beyond all that, the ways in which Roth deals with deaths and illnesses and the growing Everyman is just sublime. There aren't many books that can tell the story of someone from youth all the way through old age in such a brilliant way as Everyman does, with style developing slowly as the character ages, and the bitterness of old age setting in between the words towards the end of the book. All the fears and all the worries of the protagonist fit in neatly and come out through the tone of the book as it goes on and on through all the events of his life, focusing so much on his regrets that I couldn't help but realise how true a story it really was, that people tend to focus too much on the things they did that they didn't like about themselves, and yearn for the simpler days of their youth.

Is there anything you didn't like?
One thing - chapters. Roth didn't number the chapters, which may have ruined things if he did, but I personally like having chapter numbers. They give us a sense of achievement as we read a book. I understand that they may have been left out intentionally to avoid making the book a series of chapters in someone's life rather than an account of life from start to end. It's just a thing I like in books, and not something against Roth.

How does it compare to similar books you've read?
In this case, I don't think I have an answer for that. I've never read a book where the main character doesn't have a first name that we're allowed to know, or a book that covers so extensively the mind and matters of man, not least of all in such an accurate way. If I ever find a book like this, I will be sure to mention it!

Will you be reading anything else by the author?
Not immediately. While I loved Everyman, I have dozens of other books to read before I even get around to buying another one by Roth. But eventually, I will get around to it, and if anyone can suggest one to read, and if I like the look of the suggestion, then I'll know where to go after this.

Oh God yes. The moment I finished it I told the people closest to me that they had to read this book because it was brilliant and wonderful and everything nice you can say about a book. If you want to see into the workings of man, this is definitely a good place to start! (or, you know, to include on your journey at some point!)

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