Saturday 18 June 2011

Exit Ghost - Philip Roth

Writer Nathan Zuckerman has returned to New York. The death of his friend has showed him that he should maybe enjoy the years he has left and so is going for an operation to make life easier. Being back in New York has given him an almost new lease of life and he decides to swap apartments with a young writing couple for a year. Unexpectedly he becomes attracted to the wife. It's supposed to show him that he still has life in him yet. Instead, after coming across someone who wants to write the biography of his mentor, he is faced with his own mortality.

This has been on my shelf for close to four years which is why I picked it for the 'books I should have read by now' challenge. It was first published in 2007 and the copy I have is a proof edition which shows how long I have had it. I didn't realise until I picked it up to read it that it was in the middle of a series. I was almost going to put it back and change it on the list for another book. I decided against it though and would try reading it anyway. As it turns out I didn't feel once that I was reading a book out of sequence. I wasn't given the impression that I should know Zuckerman and his life story. The book covered everything in his history that was relevant to the story itself. For me it read very much like a standalone.

The story itself is extremely sad. Zuckerman had disappeared to the country ten years earlier after receiving death threats. If it wasn't for his friend he would have turned into a complete recluse. I think loneliness forced him back to New York to get this operation and loneliness encouraged him to stay against his better judgement. As he tries to save the reputation if his old mentor he meets a dying woman who is beginning to lose her faculties. He feels for her but as the book goes on he realises that he is getting to that stage too. He has whole conversations with people and he can't remember them. As a reader you see it from his point of view and so you are made to feel just as confused as he is. It meant that I felt a great deal of sympathy for the character.

I also came away wanting to know more about the character. I would love to read about him back when he was in his prime. I wonder if the earlier books start then. I am glad I decided in the end to read this book. Rather than leave me confused and missing something it has left me with a great deal of curiosity. I want to know more about this character and I will definitely try reading the first book in the series.

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