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2009

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.

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Have you read any Philip Roth books?

Which one is your favourite?

44 replies on “Indignation – Philip Roth”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!

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!

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!

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.

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.

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?

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.

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!

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?

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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