Indignation – Philip Roth

I loved The Human Stain when I read it a few years ago, so have been wanting to read another one of his books for a while.  When I saw that his latest book had just arrived at my library I decided to take the opportunity to be the first person to borrow the copy.

Indignation is a coming of age story. It is set in the early 1950s, when the possibility of being enlisted as a soldier in the Korean War was on the mind of every teenage boy in America. The central character, Marcus, struggles to cope with an over-protective father, and so leaves the family home to study at a college away from his father’s constant gaze. Once there he encounters all the dangers and temptations he has previously been sheltered from and has to learn to cope in the adult world.

I think it was unfortunate that I read this book so soon after reading The Bell Jar and Norwegian Wood, as all three books share many common themes. Indignation was well written, but I felt it was the weakest of the three books. It seemed to be covering old territory and had nothing new to add. The emotions in Indignation were less intense than Norwegian Wood and the plot was more mundane than that of The Bell Jar.

It was a short, easy read, but this was a negative for me. It felt as though many issues were being skimmed over and the side characters lacked depth.

There were some good sections, but overall it was quite disappointing.


Have you read any Philip Roth books?

Which one is your favourite?

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  1. Verity says:

    Never read any Philip Roth. Would you recommend The human stain for starting with him?

    1. Jackie says:

      Verity, They are the only two Roth books I’ve read, so I’m not an expert – all I can say is that I really enjoyed The Human Stain. I’d love to know what you think of it.

  2. Roth is one of those authors I’ve never got around to reading yet – I know I should … I think I have several on my TBR mountain …

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I have several more Roths in the TBR pile. I hope to work through them slowly over the coming years. I’ll keep an eye out for him on your blog.

  3. Nicole says:

    I’ve read this one and I have read Everyman and though I enjoyed them for the most part I don’t know what all the fuss is about Phillp Roth. Maybe I haven’t read the right books yet. I do have The Human Stain and I would like to read that one eventually.

    1. Jackie says:

      Nicole, I haven’t read Everyman, but I can see why you wouldn’t be that impressed if you’d only read this one. I think he has written a few very good books, but a lot of average ones. I hope you manage to find the good ones soon.

  4. Shona says:

    I haven’t read any book by Phillip Roth but since u liked The Human Stain more than this I might give that a try.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shona, I hope that you enjoy The Human Stain.

  5. JoAnn says:

    I’ve only read American Pastoral, which won the Pulitzer Prize, but it didn’t do much for me.

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I have a copy of American Pastoral here. I plan to read all the Pulitzers at some point, so hopefully I’ll get round to it soon. Sorry to hear that you found it disappointing.

  6. Simon S says:

    I must give Philip Roth a try, I never have… in fact I dont think I even have any of his in my TBR pile and yet am not sure why. Next time am at the library he might be a treat.

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, At least you know he is an author that will be easy to find in the library. I look forward to hearing what you think of him.

  7. Lezlie says:

    I think Indignation was the first Roth I read, so I did enjoy it. I’ve read about five now, and my favorite so far is The Plot Against America.


    1. Jackie says:

      Lezlie, I’m impressed that you’ve read 5 since the launch of Indignation! I have heard good things about The Plot Against America. I don’t own it yet, but I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  8. Sandy says:

    I’d love to try something from this author, but I don’t think I’ll start with this one. Perhaps The Human Stain, since you really liked it, which to me is like the Golden Seal of Approval!

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Thanks for saying I have a golden seal! I’m sure that you’ll enjoy The Human Stain and look forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

  9. Steph says:

    I haven’t read any Roth yet, but I do have a copy of The Human Stain in a stack waiting to be read. Interestingly, when I read Disgrace, a bunch of people likened Roth to J.M. Coetzee, so I’m curious to see how similar I find the two of them. Also, I’m glad to hear you enjoy The Human Stain so much, even if this one didn’t work as well for you. I always think it’s kind of cool when unplanned reading winds up serendipitously throwing books with similar themes in our paths, to potentially augment one another. Even though you found Indignation the weakest, I still think it’s neat that you wound up reading such similar books so close to one another!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I haven’t read Disgrace, so I’m afraid I can’t compare the two, but Summertime was nothing like this -it was far too weird in construction.

      I can see why it is useful to compare several books with similar themes, but I plan to avoid coming of age novels for a while!

    2. Lu says:

      I would compare them. (Because I don’t like either of them for similar reasons!) ;)

      1. Jackie says:

        Lu, Interesting – I’ll have to read Disgrace and see if I can see any similarities.

      2. raidergirl3 says:

        I’m with Lu on this one!
        Hated The Human Stain, and haven’t liked anything of Coetzee. Same sort of writer that I can’t quite quantify, but I know I don’t like. Somewhat detached in every character. I knew the big reveal in The Human Stain before I read it, so that might have been part of the problem.
        Blech on both of them!

        1. Jackie says:

          raidergirl3, I think that knowing the twist in advance may have been the reason you didn’t enjoy The Human Stain. Indignation wasn’t wordy and I don’t think the style could annoy anyone – it just felt like an average novel. I’ll be interested to see what I think of Disgrace now.

  10. Stephanie says:

    The Plot Against America is the only Roth I have read, but it was excellent. I would highly recommend it–it will most likely be making it on to my list for best books I have read this year.

    1. Jackie says:

      Stephanie, Thanks for the recommendation. I don’t own a copy yet, but will try to get hold of one soon.

  11. Lu says:

    I’ve, unfortunately, never met a Philip Roth I’ve liked. I’ve read The Human Stain (which started out amazing for me and fell flat), American Pastoral and The Plot Against America. The thing is that I think he’s interesting, just not very good. So I’m always disappointed, but I always keep going back for more. Did you know that he wrote a book in which a man turns into a woman’s breast? I’ve only read the beginning, but it’s disturbing.

    1. Jackie says:

      Lu, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy The Human Stain.

      I didn’t know anything about the breasts! I’m very curious about that though – which book is it?

  12. FleurFisher says:

    Phillip Roth has never appealed to me I’m afraid. I read Claire Bloom’s autobiography a few years ago and he came out of it rather badly – though of course there are two sides to every story. There are too many great books that I really want to read for me to pick up the ones that are supposed to be great but don’t grab me.

    1. Jackie says:

      FleurFisher, I don’t know anything about Philip Roth’s personal life, but I do know that I don’t agree with the lives a lot of my favourite authors lead – I can still enjoy their work though.

      I agree that life is too short to read books that don’t grab you though. I might pick up the Bloom biography though and see what he’s been up to!

  13. Kari says:

    I read American Pastoral and wanted to gouge my eyes out by the end. It was boring and he was SO DAMN WORDY! I’m curious about other Roth books and if there’s one that would appeal to me. He’s gotta be so well known for a reason, right?

    1. Jackie says:

      Kari, I did find Human Stain a bit wordy, but it wasn’t too bad. Indignation doesn’t suffer from the wordiness problem, so might be a good introduction to him?

  14. Karen says:

    I haven’t read any Philip Roth and I have to say I don’t think I’m all that tempted at the moment – happy to let others read these ones!

    1. Jackie says:

      Karen, I’ll let you know if you need to rush out and buy one! I don’t think this one is worth it.

  15. Jo says:

    I really need to get round to reaading something by Phillip Roth. I bought the Plot Against America a few months ago so I should probably start with that one.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I look forward to hearing what you think of that one.

  16. I haven’t read this one. In fact, the only Philip Roth I’ve read is The Plot Against America, and I absolutely loved it. It’s a pity that you didn’t enjoy it as much as The Human Stain, but I strongly recommend The Plot Against America.

    Both Norwegian Wood and The Bell Jar are powerful books, so I wonder how this book would hold up if not preceded by those two.

    1. Jackie says:

      anothercookiecrumbles, I think you are right – I am comparing this book with two amazing ones and so it would have a hard time living up to them.

      It is good to hear that you enjoyed The Plot Against America – I’ll get to it one day.

  17. Amy says:

    I’ve read a few of Roth’s books, Portnoy’s Complaint, The Human Stain, American Pastoral. I liked The Human Stain the best of the three. American Pastoral was very wordy and boring in parts, it took me a long time to read. I think that, to some degree, Roth’s writing is an acquired taste or maybe it’s just me but I won’t be reading anything by him for a while!

    1. Jackie says:

      Amy, He can’t have been that bad if you read 3. I look forward to reading some more and finding out all about his wordiness!

  18. Matt says:

    The thing I like the most about your blog is that I always find solid opinion on books that I really want to read. Now that I have read your thoughts on The Bell Jar and Indignation, which are both on my pending list, I shall read Roth first.

    1. Jackie says:

      Matt, Thank you for your kind words. I think reading Indignation first is a great idea. I’ll be interested to see what you think about them – perhaps you’ll have problems with The Bell Jar if you read it too close to Indignation? It will be good to hear if the order of reading makes a difference to your thoughts on them.

  19. diane says:

    I have not read this one but recently finished The Humbling –review to come soon (i hope). Not that great!

    1. Jackie says:

      diane, I’ll keep an eye out for your Humbling review. I wasn’t planning to read that soon – I think I’ll stick to the classic ones.

  20. She says:

    I’ve read The Human Stain, but it wasn’t a favorite. I should try to give another one of his books a read.

    1. Jackie says:

      She, I think that if you didn’t like Human Stain you may not like any of his books – do let me know what you think of future ones though.

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