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Where does American Pastoral rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?
A fabulous work of American lit. It fits perfectly in the canon of Steinbeck, McCullers, Fitzgerald, even Hemingway. The themes are familiar and welcoming. Here we have the great obsession, which is becoming increasingly British too, more's the pity, with living a comfortable life, materially replete, but at the same time, anaesthetised, numb to reality. This principle is personified as Seymour 'Swede' Levov, whose calm, laid-back, Johnny Appleseed approach to life is belied by those who share his world. The Swede is like an old cart horse who plods unknowingly along while the world beneath the surface becomes increasingly complex and angst ridden. He is a nexus of tranquillity at the heart of a storm of repressed rage.
What did you like best about this story?
Roth writes brilliantly, and nowhere is this more evident than in his handling of dialogue. The natural and fluid expression of thought and feeling is so accomplished. Whole worlds are contained in the lightest exchange. At the heart of this novel is the chimera of the American Dream. It is that trick of the mind that can only be maintained at the cost of blindness to the suffering of others, as much in the small world of family as the larger, more complex, but ultimately equally reactive world of politics and social change. The Swede's gradual and painful awakening is America's too. Herein is the brilliance of the novel, because the Swede is America. He does everything possible to fit, everything within the scope of his prodigious powers of adaptation, to look the part, but it is at the cost of everything authentic and meaningful in his life. Of course this allegory is true for us all, whether we are American or not, so perhaps we should talk here about Westernism, rather than Americanism. The Western Dream has a price, but we do not see it. And when we have seen it, it is already too late because everything we have 'won' has already been tainted by it.
Which scene did you most enjoy?
That's hard to isolate, because it is not a novel of "scenes" but rather a gradual and sublime unfoldment. It is a process. We are awakened to reality through the eyes of the Swede.
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
Not possible. It requires a thoughtful approach. It is at one level a straightforward and intriguing story, but on another level it is a meditation.
Any additional comments?
I loved this novel and will be reading more Philip Roth as a result.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
Philip Roth is one of those writers I seem always to have known about but until his recent death, never read; except possibly his Portnoy's Complaint way back in my youth, as a memory of a young kid doing barely mentionable things with his mother's or sister's knickers borrowed from the bathroom laundry basket is lodged somewhere in a dark corner of my mind. My favourite author, Howard Jacobson always speaks highly of Roth, and wrote a fine tribute to his writing shortly after his death, and it was reading that which prompted me to purchase American Pastoral (that, and a free credit to try Audible for the first time.) I listened an hour or so each day over a couple of weeks late at night in bed and early each morning, enthralled, spellbound, impressed and often disturbed by the quality of the writing, the significance of the plot that revealed, unpicked and laid bare the human condition on both the social/political and individual/familial/personal scale. It is quite possibly, the most moving, most disconcerting and honest novel I have had the privilege of reading. Or should I say, listening to. For I have not (as yet) read the beast. I have listened to it, in a 'theatre for one', listened to a braura performance by Ron Silver, whose feeling for the themes of this great work is matched only by his grasp of, and ability to convey, the essence of the characters whose voices he recreates for this appreciative audience of one. Quite frankly, the best 20 quid I never spent. Thank you Audible, thank you Philip Roth. I am now off to buy the book to read myself (and to order the next volume in the trilogy, also happily, performed by Ron Silver.)
This is the 10th or 12th audiobook to which I've listened on Audible.com, and far and above the rest of them (most of which are more "popular" or "populist" titles) this one is relentless. It's both impossible to listen to, and impossible to put down.
It's not a novel of plot, though there is one, and it's not a novel of characters, though there are many of them and they are very well drawn. Rather, it's a novel of images, and a novel of feelings, and a novel of writing. It's the most well written of the novels to which I've listened, especially since I find that I enjoy the languid descriptions and sections of prose that Roth uses. It's a story of what happens when an original sinner interacts with humans of all ilks, angels and demons alike. It's a story of nature (of the human kind) and nurture (of the human kind) and interactions (of the human kind) and above all, it's the story of people.
17 of 17 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
What a book! Expertly narrated and beautifully written. A story that sticks with the reader long after the recording ends. Filled with raw human emotion that leaves the reader feeling they understand these characters and their lives inside out. A keeper that I can whole heartedly recommend if you want to be captivated and swept up in a story that is difficult to put down. One of the rare times that I carried my iPod around with me as I did my chores so I could keep listening. Just plain terrific storytelling!
39 of 41 people found this review helpful