Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Ghost Writer (1979)

As you might remember, Dr. M and I have concocted a lifelong reading goal of reading all the books listed in Harold Bloom's The Western Canon. Well, I've finally embarked on my second book from the list (alphabetized by title, starting at the end): Zuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue by Philip Roth. This is a collection of Roth's first three novels (and one novella) in his Zuckerman series. Since they were all published separately, I've decided to write about them separately.

First in the trilogy is The Ghost Writer (1979), where we follow Nathan Zuckerman, a young writer with a background that closely matches that of Roth himself. Zuckerman has recently cut himself away from his life with a girlfriend in New York and his friendly relationship with his father in New Jersey to live at a writer's retreat in New England and focus on his work. His idol, E.I. Lonoff, a famous older Jewish author, lives in a secluded house near the retreat and Zuckerman writes to him, shares some of his writing, and gets a coveted invitation to join the author and his wife for dinner.

The novel moves along through a series of tensions: between the young writer who wants to impress and the established author who doesn't want to be fawned over; between Lonoff and his wife; between Zuckerman and his recently estranged father; and between everyone and the mysterious young house guest, Amy Bellette, who may or may not be who she says she is.

This is a very tight and narrowly focused novel (my favorite kind), and Roth's character of Zuckerman is the perfect guide through this story of misunderstandings, miscommunications, ambition, desire, disappointment, and routine.

1 comment:

Plop Blop said...

I took a class my last semester at school that focused exclusively on this book and all of the literary references in it. It was a lot of fun because we read everyone mentioned in the book (Kafka, Babel, Gogol, Anne Frank, etc.) and we read the real authors that some of the characters are based on. I guess Lonoff is based on Bernard Malamud, Zuckerman is Roth, and there's another character that is based on Saul Bellow (the kind of weird, successful, possibly an asshole writer that Zuckerman meets in college). Strangely enough, I haven't read any of the other Zuckerman books, so I'm interested to hear what you say about them.