The Humbling

  • by Philip Roth
  • Narrated by Dick Hill
  • 3 hrs and 34 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Everything is over for Simon Axler, the protagonist of Philip Roth's startling new book. One of the leading American stage actors of his generation, now in his 60s, he has lost his magic, his talent, and his assurance. His Falstaff and Peer Gynt and Vanya, all his great roles, "are melted into air, into thin air". When he goes on stage he feels like a lunatic and looks like an idiot. His confidence in his powers has drained away; he imagines people laughing at him; he can no longer pretend to be someone else. "Something fundamental has vanished." His wife has gone, his audience has left him, his agent can't persuade him to make a comeback.

Into this shattering account of inexplicable and terrifying self-evacuation bursts a counterplot of unusual erotic desire, a consolation for the bereft life so risky and aberrant that it points not toward comfort and gratification but to a yet darker and more shocking end. In this long day's journey into night, told with Roth's inimitable urgency, bravura, and gravity, all the ways that we persuade ourselves of our solidity, all our life's performances - talent, love, sex, hope, energy, reputation - are stripped off.

Following the dark meditations on mortality and endings in Everyman and Exit Ghost, and the bitterly ironic retrospective on youth and chance in Indignation, Roth has written another in his haunting group of late novels.


What the Critics Say

“Creating distinctive characters is one of the gratifying gifts in the arsenal of a talented narrator. But more important in the case of a work by a literary giant is capturing the author's unique sensibility. That is what makes Dick Hill such a splendid reader of Roth's novels…As a character, Axler is exasperating and foolish, but in Hill's performance, mesmerizing.” (AudioFile)
“Roth observes much (about age, success and the sexual credit lovers hold one with another) in little space, and the svelte narrative amounts to an unsparing confrontation of self.” (Publisher’s Weekly, starred review)
“his thirtieth book is brief and perfectly so…Using spare prose, he makes the situation only as poignant as it deserves to be…Roth’s voice, long heard and long appreciated, remains profound. (Booklist)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A weak book.

What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

If the story was more interesting and possibly more realistic.

Would you be willing to try another book from Philip Roth? Why or why not?

I have read that Philip Roth has stronger books so maybe.

Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Dick Hill?

No idea, but Dick Hill was slightly too much theatrical for my taste. And his "womens" voice was way too much feeble and weak. It made all the women in the book sound unintelligent and weak.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Very much a disappointment. I only read this book because I saw a movie has been made of it. I hoe the movie is better than the book! The protagonist just sounds like a desperate side of the author himself. A "has-been" who feels sorry for himself and ofcourse feels better when he gets sexually involved with a much younger woman. And where does heterosexual male writers get the idea that lesbian women will turn straight when the meet the "right" man? This is such a pathetic fantasy and it shows how many men somehow beleves that being a lesbian is a choice. It is just as unthinkable as a heterosexual man will turn homosexual if he just meets the right man who can show him how lovely it is.

Any additional comments?

Thankful that the book was so short.

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- Karin Engebretsen

Roth newbies start elsewhere

The Humbling follows a trajectory those familiar with Roth's later work will be accustomed to.

Simon Axler is a successful stage actor in his mid-60s. However, after struggling with spinal problems and several poor reviews he suffers a crisis of confidence so debilitating his wife flees and he winds up admitting himself to a psychiatric institution. In an art therapy class there he meets Sybil, also depressed after discovering her husband abusing their daughter.

Amazingly for a Roth protagonist, Simon doesn't sleep with Sybil and in fact turns down her request that he murder her husband. On release and moping about at home, the normal course of events for a Roth novel are restored. Simon is visited by Pegeen, the daughter of a mutual friend and a lesbian, but not now she's met Simon, even though he's 25 years her senior! Pegeen's lover Louise, also her boss at the college where she teaches, is understandably upset and tells all to Pegeen's parents, who were unaware of her previous sexual orientation and now must deal not only with this but the fact she's now having an affair with the much older Simon and wants to have his child.

Simon and Pegeen act upon a fantasy to have a threesome, affecting the dynamic of their affair which Pegeen then breaks off. This, in essence, is Simon's humbling.

This is the first duffer I've read from Roth; even his usual fluid prose, still present, can't save it. His late work usually teeters on the brink of descending into dirty old man fantasies but sadly this one oversteps the line without the saving grace of having his protagonist raging eloquently against his failing body and the dying of the light as in Everyman and The Human Stain. both superior 21st century Roth.

At less than 4 hours, I'm afraid it smacks of "will this do?" and suggests Roth, now 78 and still churning out a book a year might be well advised to slow down and focus on quality, not quantity.
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- Grammath

Book Details

  • Release Date: 02-11-2009
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio