Portnoy's Complaint

By Philip Roth,

Book cover of Portnoy's Complaint

Book description

'The most outrageously funny book about sex written' Guardian

Portnoy's Complaint n. [after Alexander Portnoy (1933-)]:A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature.

Portnoy's Complaint tells the tale of young Jewish lawyer Alexander Portnoy and his scandalous…

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Why read it?

6 authors picked Portnoy's Complaint as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I stumbled onto this book at way too young of an age.

It’s vulgar, graphic, and crude—but one of the best expressions of Jewish anxiety and the sense of “otherness” I’ve read. It’s both funny and revealing. And with a return of sexual repression, male anxieties, and incel rage, this book is again relevant.

From Matthew's list on Jewish families in crisis.

Portnoy's Complaint published in 1969 I read the novel in college and I still have my copy.

I remember wondering if Phil Roth had lost his mind showing no shame in his brilliant revealing of male sexuality no one up to that time had the courage to write about. I thought a lot of it was grandstanding until I realized I too had the same fantasies Portnoy did. 

What is interesting is that Portnoy’s Complaint, was created in a world before cell phones, Instagram, and digital porn. Do young men today still have this struggle with sexual desire? Are they…

Portnoy’s Complaint is really just a long, drawn-out, hilarious, often shocking monologue which would seem an unlikely model for a crime writer.

After all, masturbation is hardly a criminal offense—at least not yet. But Roth brings so much to the table in terms of creating character through voice.

I tend to write in the first-person and reading Roth is a master class in the use of the first person.

In my book, for instance, the story is told through the eyes of three different characters. The challenge was to create three, distinct voices, all of whom have to move the…

Though often viewed as a book about Jewish mothers, Roth’s controversial comic masterpiece is also a portrait of an ever-suffering father whose hopes and dreams are tied to his son. “Where he had been imprisoned, I would fly,” Roth writes in the voice of his narrator. Portnoy’s father is a put-upon insurance salesman wracked with constipation whose sacrifices instill a constant, nagging guilt in his son. Readers empathize with Portnoy’s efforts to escape his father’s overbearing influence, but also feel for the father, who simply wants the best for his intelligent, talented son. When my own father died, my first…

From Chuck's list on fathers and sons.

Portnoy’s Complaint came out when I was 16. I heard my aunt telling my parents about it. She’d gotten Portnoy from a book-of-the-month club and said it was “disgusting” and wanted to get it out of her house. I didn’t understand how a book titled “Port Noise Complaint” could be disgusting. What were people complaining about? Squawking seagulls? Foghorns? She gave the book to my parents, and a few days later I was sitting at my desk, doing homework, when I noticed it on the shelf: Oh, it’s “Portnoy’s Complaint.” I started reading it. When I got to chapter…

I was 16 years old and house-sitting for my uncle. I was bored and decided to scan his bookshelf. I came across this book and couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. Scandalous! And hysterical. And eye-opening. This book showed me that creativity has no limits, and it’s a lesson I try to remember every time I confront a blank page.

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