Chronicler of American politics, Jewishness and male sexual desire was widely regarded as one of greatest novelists of the 20th century
The novelist Philip Roth, who explored America through the contradictions of his own character for more than six decades, died on Tuesday aged 85.
Roths career began in notoriety and ended in authority, as he grappled with questions of identity, authorship, morality and mortality in a series of novels that shaped the course of American letters in the second half of the 20th century. He refracted the complexities of his Jewish-American heritage in works such as Portnoys Complaint, American Pastoral, The Human Stain and The Plot Against America, which garnered both critical and commercial success, garlanding their creator with a dazzling succession of literary prizes.
Roths death was confirmed by his literary agent, Andrew Wylie, who said the author died on Tuesday night of congestive heart failure. His biographer, Blake Bailey, said on Twitter that Roth died surrounded by friends.
Roth found success and controversy in equal measure with his first collection of short stories, Goodbye Columbus, published in 1959. In it, he followed the fortunes of middle-class Jewish Americans caught between the old ways and the new, negotiating the boundaries between assimilation and differentiation in suburbia. It was enough to win him a National Book Award, and to unleash a stream of condemnation from those who labelled him antisemitic, a self-hating Jew.
The publication of Portnoys Complaint in 1969 transformed him from enterprising young author to scandalous celebrity. An immediate bestseller, the wildly comic monologue charts the life of Alexander Portnoy as he pursues sexual release through ever more extreme erotic acts, held back only by the iron grip of his Jewish American upbringing. For some, the temptation to take this confessional novel as a novelised confession proved too great. Writing Portnoy was easy, he told the Guardian in 2004 but he also became the author of Portnoys Complaint and what I faced publicly was the trivialisation of everything.
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