Portnoy’s Complaint

Portnoy’s Complaint (1969) by Phillip Roth is a comedic novel about growing up as Jewish man during and after WWII. The book was initially regarded as scandalous.

The book tells the story of Portnoy from the point of view of him revealing himself to his therapist. He talks about growing up, about masturbation and the family he lived in. He also talks about the women with whom he has had relationships with.

The book was meant to be very funny. Books are often not a particularly good vehicle for humour. The humour in the book didn’t have that much appeal to me. I honestly expected funnier accounts of masturbation which the book is best known for.

The book has had a lot of influence. Woody Allen and many others have since made films and written books which echo Portnoy’s Complaint.

The book was a big disappointment for me. Many books written by male authors are masturbatory, this one, oddly, was insufficiently so. The shock value of the book is gone. In place it looks dated and the main character is pretty horrible to his female partners. The humour has also dated. Still, because the book is so well known it was an interesting and occasionally amusing book to read.


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