Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth


So… this was unusual.

Alexander Portnoy is a confused man ranting to his psychiatrist about how he lives in a state of unfulfillment and desire, obsessed with sex and his own guilt. This book is like listening to this narcissistic, sex-obsessed asshole for three-hundred pages. Your tolerance may understandably vary.

It is funny, though.

I finished this three weeks ago, but kept putting off writing a single word about it. Pathos bleeds out over the pages, but I couldn’t recomend reading this because it was just so one-note. There are dirty jokes mixed with a weirdly affecting anecdote over, and over, and over again, and if that’s your bag you’re in for a treat, but I got the bored of the humour after a hundred pages. The next two-hundred plus were Roth beating (off) a dead horse.

The moment which best sums up the novel comes when Portnoy’s sister becomes dismayed for the victims of the holocaust. It’s a comparatively serious, heart-wrenching scene. His selfishness, narcisism and self-loathing results in the heart-breaking line, “she sheds her tears for six million, or so I think, while I shed mine only for myself. Or so I think.”

This is immediately followed by the next chapter:


Did I mention that when I was fifteen I took it out of my pants and whacked off on the 107 bus from New York?

Portnoy’s Complaint is like a night out in a drunken, messy part of town: it can be hilarious, but after all is said and done your head hurts and you feel dirty.

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