Exit Ghost: Philip Roth

Growing old can be associated with gains, and of course with losses. The passing years leave behind experiences and sometimes these congeal into a philosophical understanding of the process of living itself. But is such a comprehension sufficient to enable you to face the paring off of precious years from your life? Philip Roth’s 'Exit Ghost' ruminates on the melancholy process of aging and also the unavoidable question of mortality.   

Nathan Zuckerman, a seventy one year old writer has returned to New York after a self imposed exile of eleven years. In these years he has stayed out of touch with the world, shutting himself off from the events and the people living in it. But when his friend succumbs to cancer and in his last note to Zuckerman implores him to give up his loneliness, it shifts something inside Zuckerman’s heart. He comes down to New York.

It is 2004 and the world has moved on. Mobile phones ring incessantly, different kinds of authors are worshipped, and unexpected presidents are elected. Zuckerman enters this transformed world and gets quickly drawn into its whirlwind when he meets a young writer and feels attracted to her. There is also another attachment from the past which comes out seeking for him. It is a secret from the past of the renowned author Lonoff who had been a mentor to Zuckerman in his youth. It has been some years since Lonoff has passed away, but a young writer, Kliman, wishes to write his biography and reveal Lonoff’s secret. Zuckerman, infuriated by Kliman’s unsympathetic views, finds himself in something of a duel with the young writer.

Philip Roth leads the reader into the highly intense dilemma of Zuckerman’s life. His sudden entry into the speedy urban world poses severe strain upon him and the desires he has repressed in his lonely life surge up with new vigor. Roth’s writing is very lucid and it powerfully brings to life the complexity of Zuckerman’s predicament. The unhappiness in his life does not remain constrained to the pages of the novel but escapes out and seeps into our own hearts.  

Another important theme at the center of the novel is regarding the distinction of an author’s personal life from his work. The young Kliman interests himself in revealing an unsavory aspect of Lonoff’s past, but Zuckerman holds that such a thing will be of no consequence in understanding the literature that Lonoff has produced. Interestingly, the older characters side with Zuckerman, while the younger ones with Kliman (Zuckerman himself hints of having held similar views when young). These arguments shed light into the various aspects of literature itself and are a very interesting read.

'Exit Ghost' is a rich literary fiction which combines multiple themes. I will recommend this complex novel for its poignant rendition of the process of growing old and for the depth of its characters.  

The novel can be downloaded for Kindle or can be bought from Flipkart in India.
Book source: Self 


Vrushali Kolhatkar said...

Very good post Nive... liked it very much...!

Nivedita Barve said...

Thanks Vrushali :)

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog recently; I appreciate it!

I've read several books by Philip Roth -- most of which I have enjoyed. I'll add this one to my list.

Happy new Year.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi Diane,
A very happy new year to you too! I was glad to discover your blog and will be dropping by often :)

Col (Col Reads) said...

This sounds very complex, in a good way. A fabulous read for a book group, because it sounds like there are so many themes to explore. Thanks for bringing it my attention!

Nivedita Barve said...

Thanks Col. It will be a good candidate for a book group; there are so many discussion points in it. Hope your group enjoys it!
Happy New Year to you!

TheBookGirl said...

I've had somewhat uneven experience with Roth's books. I liked The Plot Against America, loved The Human Stain and couldn't finish American Pastoral or Portnoy's Complaint.

Based on your insightful review of this one, I am going to look for it in the library.

Andrew Blackman said...

Nice review, as usual, Nivedita! Roth is one of those writers I've been meaning to read for years but have never managed to. I've heard mixed things about his writing, and people who, like TheBookGirl, love one book and hate another. I guess I'll start with this one - sounds interesting with the themes on ageing and the distinction between a writer and his work.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hello BookGirl,
I can understand why reading Roth can feel a little strenuous at times. This book had its own share of intricate and slightly meandering discussions. But I felt that was also what made the read feel rewarding in the end. I hope you enjoy this one.

Hi Andrew,
Thanks for dropping by! I will be looking forward to hear your views on this one :)

Lisa said...

I've only read one Roth book and while I didn't care for the story, I really liked the writing. Sounds like this one would be a good one to pick up for both the writing and the story.

Nivedita Barve said...

Hi Lisa,
His writing is really so wonderful, isn't it! It really draws you in. I hope you enjoy this novel. I will love to hear your views on it.