Howard Jacobson: Is American Pastoral Philip Roth at his best?
Roth said Sabbath’s Theater was his best book, even though many hated it. Should we take notice of a writer’s evaluation of their own work?
11 November 2016
hilip Roth has said that Sabbath’s Theater is his best, or at least his best-written, novel. One should take writers’ valuations of their own work with a pinch of salt: they are likely to rank them differently tomorrow. But this judgment is particularly interesting, regardless of whether one agrees with it – though I do – for the reason that Roth seems to take satisfaction in noting that many people “hated” the novel. As though “hating” is a precondition of understanding it. Roth, of course, has always been a novelist who gives his readers a wild ride. If you haven’t wrestled with the angel and the devil and lost to both, you can’t be said to have read him. The nakedness of the encounter is part of what makes him the greatest novelist alive.