Portnoy’s Complaint

ISBN: 0965017028
ISBN 13:
By: Philip Roth

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About this book

Portnoy's Complaint is the famously outrageous confession made to his analyst by Alexander Portnoy, the Huck Finn of Newark, who is trust through life by his unappeasable sexuality, yet held back at the same time by the iron grip of his unforgettable childhood. Thirty years after it was first published, Portnoy's Complaint remains a classic of American literature, a tour de force of comic and carnal brilliance, and probably the funniest book about sex ever written. It was recently designated one of the hundred best books of the twentieth century by the Modern Library judges.

Reader's Thoughts


Roth is coming farther into his own voice here, and exploring his ideas, skimmed in other books, in a more, uh, penetrating fashion. Funny, embarassing, but sickeningly relatable. I'd go as far as to say it's a must read in Modern American Literature.

Hugo Emanuel

Já me tinha deparado inúmeras vezes com o nome de Roth. Tais menções vinham muitas vezes acompanhadas da opinião de que Roth é o "maior romancista americano vivo" e que captura magistralmente o que são muitas vezes referidos como "os problemas de assimilação e identidade dos judeus dos Estados Unidos". No entanto, também já tinha me deparado com tais elogios feitos a Saul Bellow, um autor que considero monótono e desinteressante, pelo que estava algo céptico em relação á obra de Roth. Um dia destes deparei-me com o "O Complexo de Portnoy" a um preço apetecível e apressei-me a adquiri-lo."O Complexo de Portnoy" está escrito em forma de monólogo, no qual ficamos a conhecer as atribulações de Portnoy, um estado-unidense com um enorme apetite e curiosidade sexual, por vezes de natureza considerada desviante, mas cuja gratificação sexual raramente é plena devido a um enorme sentimento de culpa derivado de impulsos éticos, altruístas ou edipianos. Tão única é a sua condição que Roth achou necessário criar uma condição psiquiátrica que denominou de “O Complexo de Portnoy” (caracterizada na 1 º pagina do romance).E o romance é apenas isso: um longo monólogo de Portnoy no qual este traça um itinerário de queixas, desventuras e justificações para o seu censurável comportamento. Descrito desta forma, parece uma leitura aborrecida e desnecessária. Não o é. Os seus queixumes são tecidos numa linguagem completamente franca, por vezes tremendamente obscena mas sempre hilariante. Devido á forma como os assuntos são abordados neste monólogo e a natureza consideravelmente amoral do seu protagonista esta obra é habitualmente caracterizada como uma longa anedota. Esta é uma forma completamente errónea de classificar esta obra, porque apesar de ser uma obra divertida e algo escabrosa (pelo menos para puritanos e seres humanos facilmente ofendidos) acaba por abordar, ainda que subtilmente, uma série de assunto sérios. Para além dos já referidos problemas de assimilação e identidade dos judeus dos Estados Unidos, critica-se também neste romance a crise de valores e hipocrisia existentes na sociedade americana do final dos anos 60, critica esta que atinge o seu apogeu quando Portnoy relata a sua estadia em Israel, o berço do seu povo. Surpreendeu-me acima de tudo a forma como Roth conseguiu atribuir tanta energia, interesse e hilaridade a um romance que tem a forma de um monólogo errático, subjectivo e que alguns (não eu) não hesitariam em classificar como um compêndio de obscenidades. Imagino que esta romance não seja bem representativo do seu trabalho como autor (apesar de ser um dos seus romances mais conhecidos), mas bastou para converter-me a Roth pois deixou bem claro que se trata de um autor com um excelente comando da sua prosa e que sabe transmitir os grandes temas que perfazem a comédia e tragédia humana de uma forma algo subtil e ao mesmo tempo clara e franca.Vou sem sombra de dúvida ler mais romances seus, sendo o próximo “A Conspiração Contra A América” que já adquiri e lerei em breve.


Portnoy's Complaint has become known as "the sex book" by Philip Roth, and without a doubt it is not a book for those squeamish about frank & honest sexual portrayal. The book features Portnoy, a 30-something Jewish man from Newark, NJ apparently unleashing a 300 page tirade on his shrink as he describes his shortcomings in becoming the expectation of a Jewish man. He still struggles with what he deems juvenile, if not downright animalistic, sexual longings and impulses, yet he maintains a position in the New York mayor's cabinet and is by all exterior signals a very successful, intellectual man. His sexual urges and needs preclude him from being close to a woman beyond sex, though he wishes he could settle into the family-centric existence expected by his parents and his Weequahic neighborhood. Instead of falling in line with these expectations or dreams, however you interpret them, he is drawn to the exact opposite: lusting after shikses and not the "nice jewish girls" his mother desires for him, public masturbation & other sex acts, etc. But it is also obvious that the quiet family (jewish) life is not put on a pedestal either; his family appears as a bunch of raving lunatics bent on invading their son's life and protecting him from any possible harm, from infection to loneliness to infection to disease to injury to infection. His parents are satirized but he still longs for the life laid out for him. It is a complex novel about best-laid plans and the reality of human nature, and the constant conflict between the two.the most interesting part of the book comes near the conclusion, when he dumps his erotic flavor of the week in athens while on vacation and hops a plane to israel in a state of disarray over his condition and life. at first, we think this might be the rehabilitation he needs; he marvels at no longer being a minority, but rather, in a country of jews, run by jews, where even the ice cream man is jewish. however, after he nearly succeeds in raping a socialist jewish woman in his hotel room, we see that he doesn't fit into this class either; he is simply a man who doesn't fit into any category. is this so much different than all of us? our parents create our expectations for us from birth, but in reality these expectations only fit into several categories, while the kaleidoscope of human personality far exceeds these simplistic classifications of what our lives should be.

Bev Hankins

Just to start off...The best part of the book? The "Afterword to the Twenty-fifth-Anniversary Edition" by the author. Seriously. What I enjoyed most was learning that Roth has used a piece of paper emblazoned with 19 typewritten sentences that he found in a local diner back in 1956 to come up with the opening line for his first 19 novels. Being a budding author myself, I'm going to be on the look-out everywhere I go for a similar little bonanza--particularly if it's going to produce best-sellers.But, I digress. Back to the review. This is the story of Alexander Portnoy and the outpourings of his therapy sessions with Dr. Spielvogel. Portnoy goes on and on (and on and on and...) about growing up Jewish and what the pressures of his home life have done to him. Squashed in between his ramblings about his sex life (both solitary and in company), we are given little vignettes about life with father and Mother and sister. Mother, of course, being the dominant figure in Portnoy's life.This book earned two stars out of my five star system. There were moments (brief, fleeting) of down-right brilliant hilarity. There were moments (even briefer and more fleeting) of thoughtful insight. These are the redeeming qualities that push Portnoy's Complaint from one star to two. Over-all, this is a self-centered, whiny, piece of sexual OCD with a central character who is hung up on himself, his penis and where he's putting it, and his Jewishness (not necessarily in that order). If the humor were more liberally sprinkled throughout and/or the main character actually showed some growth over the almost 300 pages, then I would have given it a higher rating. As it is, despite Portnoy's sporadic psychological comments about himself (which seem to be right on target), he never takes these musings to heart and applies them. The reader is left feeling that Portnoy will never get beyond the furtive fumbling in the bathroom or the frantic wranglings in the bedroom.This was first posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks!


I've been reading a lot of smut lately. It's not because I'm a horndog, though! No wait, yes it is. That's the reason. So I figured I'd check this out, because I heard it was dirty, and it is, but it is not sexy. Not...at...all...sexy.There's an Onion article from...holy shit, fifteen years ago! I feel old...that I've always remembered: Chinese Laundry Owner Blasted For Reinforcing Negative Ethnic Stereotypes. It's a clever piece. I was reminded of it once again while reading Portnoy's Complaint: now I know where all those stereotypes of guilting, overprotective Jewish mothers come from. They come from this. I found it very distasteful.


dall'analista il dr. Spielvogel (hahahahahaha! spiel: gioco, vogel: uccello, così giusto per precisare) al quale il protagonista racconta e rivisita (vomita addosso rende meglio l'idea però) la sua vita sino all'oggi dei suoi 33 anni.Una caratteristica yiddishe mame, capace di fare danni alla psiche del pargolo peggio di Attila, un padre inconsistente molto occupato dal funzionamento del suo intestino, una sorella perfetta sconosciuta. Il lungo monologo di Alex é un parlarsi addosso, una lezione magistrale di autocommiserazione compiaciuta, dove il membro dell'interessato gioca un ruolo primario essendo l'unico organo capace di portarlo a vivere in maniera autonoma.La scrittura é febbrile a tratti, alla fine di certe pagine manca il fiato, e ti immagini Roth scriverle camminando avanti e indietro urlando le parole. A volte sono pagine rabbiose, piene di livore, a volte si percepisce la dolorosa condizione dell'essere: una bella e gigantesca nevrosi. Ben venga l'analista, il quale dopo questa prima seduta deve aver alzato di un bel po' la parcella.E comunque la si voglia pensare dopo aver letto questo di Lamento qualsiasi altro che si potrà ascoltare o produrre non sarà mai più lo stesso.4 stelline e mezzo sarebbe il voto. Non arriva a 5 perché qui é là mi é apparso ripetitivo.


On the 6th night of Chanukah my older brother gave me a copy of Portnoy’s complaint. As I tore open the wrapping paper my brother repeated statements along the lines of “prepare for your life to be completely changed” and “this is not so much a book as it is a right of passage”. While I don’t believe that reading Philip Roth’s most famous novel changed my life I did thoroughly enjoy this book. More specifically I enjoyed the books protagonist Alexander Portnoy. He is very much the sexually obsessed, intellectual, neurotic who has a particular interest in Freud that we have all come to know from media such as Woody Allen movies to be the stereotypical Jewish New Yorker, however Alex is more then a simple corresponding stereotype or caricature. Rather he is full of contradiction and could be described as anything but simple. His morals don’t agree with his sexual urges and I feel that you can expand this to say that the world view of his community does not agree with his own personal life experience. Although Alex is probably most notorious for his sexual confusion there are plenty of other ticks and quirks that come together to create an extremely interesting personality. Among these qualities is Portnoy’s debilitating sense that he does not belong. This is where Roth truly separates Portnoy from the standard Jewish American stereotype. In Woody Allen’s Annie Hall it is Annie who is out of place not Alvie Singer, the Jewish New Yorker. She is, after all, the one who orders a pastrami sandwich with mayonnaise on white bread, but in Portnoy’s Complaint Alexander Portnoy, the Jewish New Yorker, constantly feels as if he is imposing and somehow foreign regardless of his surroundings. This, to me, is what the novel is about. A man who after breaking all connections with his past looks desperately for a branch of society that he can feel comfortable in.


Si tuviera que resumir ‘El mal de Portnoy’ de Philip Roth en cinco palabras estas serían “sexo”, “judaísmo” y “sentimiento de culpa”. El protagonista, Alexander Portnoy, es el perfecto niño judío, estudioso, obediente y dulce, pero aún así todo esto no es suficiente para su dominante madre, para la que una nimiedad como no terminarse toda la comida del plato es una ofensa personal, una tragedia, una prueba irrefutable de que su hijito es un desagradecido que no valora lo mucho que le quiere su madre del alma porque quiere matarse de hambre sólo para darle un disgusto a ella. Y si la madre es sobreprotectora y castradora, el padre es un estreñido, literalmente y figurativamente. El padre es un vendedor de seguros que se mata trabajando y que las pocas horas que pasa en casa las pasa sentado en la taza del váter. El caso es que los dos, padre y madre, forman un muy buen equipo a la hora de dotar a su hijo de un profundo sentimiento de culpa mediante las más variadas y refinadas técnicas pasivo-agresivas. Y es cuando Portnoy empieza a masturbarse (de forma compulsiva) cuando el sentimiento de culpa estalla en todo su esplendor. Portnoy crece y se convierte en un respetable ciudadano que trabaja para el alcalde de Nueva York, pero sus padres siguen tratándole como un niño e intentándolo hacer sentir culpable (con bastante éxito, todo se tiene que decir). Pero tampoco es que Portnoy sea un ser humano digno de compasión; es egocéntrico, narcisista, engreído, misógino, lleno de autocompasión, y se cree infinitamente superior a todos los que le rodean. Han pasado años desde las primeras pajas, pero para Portnoy sexo y sentimiento de culpa siguen íntimamente ligados: todas las experiencias sexuales con las que había fantaseado previamente, una vez se llegan a materializar, no puede disfrutarlas plenamente por culpa del famoso sentimiento de culpa. Por supuesto, sus relaciones con las mujeres no van que digamos sobre ruedas: las mujeres listas le hacen sentir inferior y las que no lo son no puede evitar despreciarlas por las pocas luces que tienen. Y estas son la desgracias del pobre Alexander Portnoy. La novela está escrita en primera persona y finge ser el relato de su vida que Portnoy hace a su psicoanalista. Este truco permite que la historia no siga un orden lineal sino motivado por los recuerdos, pero a la vez también le da frescura, y espontaneidad, y veracidad. El tema de esta novela, que no es otro que las penas que acarrea la masculinidad en el siglo XX, en manos de cualquier otro escritor podría resultarnos algo insufrible, pero el mérito que tiene Roth es que sabe escribir y tiene sentido del humor, y con esto puede hablar las veces que quiera de lo mucho que sufren los hombres, porque es capaz de hacerlo interesante. ‘El mal de Portnoy’ está tan bien escrito que engancha, y además es divertidísimo. Roth es capaz de reírse de sí mismo y esto se agradece. Y otra cosa que se agradece es la sinceridad de la novela. Portnoy nos cuenta sus secretos más vergonzosos, sus fantasías más denigrantes, sus pensamientos más rastreros, sus sentimientos más patéticos. Y es divertidísimo.


Portnoy's Complaint is another one of those books that I feel has always been buzzing around on the periphery of my pop culture consciousness, so since there happened to be a copy lying around the house and I happened to need a new book to read, I picked it up. It was a nice, quick, moderately amusing good read.Alexander Portnoy is neurotic, Jewish, and obsessed with sex. The book, in turn, is a kind of therapy confessional where he meanders back and forth across his young childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, revisiting all the many things that have made him unhappy and the few fleeting things that have brought him joy. It's a fairly short book - my edition was just barely 300 pages in pocket paperback - but even so by the end it does get a little grating because Portnoy is so consistently, insistently miserable. On the other hand, the book has a literal punchline, so it was worth it to get to the last page. Still, along the way there are plenty of truly funny passages that I either related to or at least chuckled at.The reputation of the book, the part that imposed itself on my "yeah I've heard of that somewhere", is the fact that it is pretty frank and explicit in its dealings with sex and sexuality. And it is, and certainly I wouldn't read any passages from it to the vicar if I had him over for tea and cake, but at the same time it's not really what I would consider shocking. But then again I'm fairly hard to shock and the book was published back in the 1960's. Once again I find myself arriving late to the party, reading something that had a different cultural impact in its own time and which now is an interesting historical curiosity. Maybe I should get back to the modern lit section again ...


Истеричен, забавен, циничен, откровен и цветист разказ, в който 33-годишният Алекс (американец, евреин, ерген, държавен служител) описва живота си на кушетката на своя психоаналитик. Изважда на светло с чувство за хумор, спокойно и с максимално интимни подробности своите връзки, провали, притеснения и комплекси (едипов, за малоценност, сексуално-фетишистки), породени от дългото съжителство с родителите му, "ежедневно произвеждащи и пакетиращи проблеми" и непрекъснатите им напътствия, забележки и критики.Книгата е колкото забавна на пръв поглед, толкова и сериозна.За времето на първото си публикуване (1969 г.) е емблематична и тогава (и все още) критиците я определят като "комичен шедьовър" и "един от задължителните романи, които човек трябва да прочете през живота си". Напълно съм съгласна с мненията им.Филип Рот определено ме спечели с тази книга и със стила си на писане (не знам защо го откривам толкова късно) и ще си потърся и останалите му романи.


Funniest book I have ever read. Bar none. I never, NEVER laugh out loud while reading and I was literally howling several times as I read this. It's so awful and so true. Teenage sexual obsession/repression (isn't it funny how the two go together) and religious guilt/ political guilt (ditto) have been linked before, but never as desperately, bitterly funny as this before.I always used to wonder why "realistic" novels about adolescence don't talk about masterbation. I mean everybody does it, right? And besides, it plays a pretty key role in every young person's life, moving into adulthood and beyond.Is it telling in some way that jacking off must be presented exaggeratedly, comedically, in the midst of a ridiculous rant about repression and Jewish guilt? Wonderfully written, every aspect of Alexander Portnoy is given due place, with a manic self-referential humor just propelling the damn thing forward.Also, I'd like to point out that I am unbearably goyish, from the Mass suburbs, raised fundie Christian, am genetically a WASP, and...get ready...a MAYFLOWER fucking DESCENDENT (!) and I related to this book in discreet, rather shocking ways that I never thought a book would or could suggest. I didn't hump any cold cuts, just so we're clear, but still...It goes farther than most books you have ever tried and succeeds 90% of the time. Promise.Caveat:I think the humor and the narrative snap of this book is basically best appreciated if somebody reading it is equally as outraged as they are entertained and scabrously scandalized by them.If you can think that your own (sex) life is ridiculous and pathetic and also, simultanously, incorrigibly, find the circumstances of it funny in a hyper-active, Jerry-by-way-of-Richard Lewis, Borscht-Belt kinda way....then this book is for you. Re-edited my review since I hadn't thought of this book in years and come across an interesting article by a guy who wrote some social criticism using it as a diving-board...http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles...And, despite a few howlers, the Guardian has some fine things to say, and that top photo of Roth in full-on Bill and Ted mode is priceless...http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/books...

MJ Nicholls

The definitive self-hating Jew novel. A searing literary stand-up performance par excellence. Woody Allen meets Bill Hicks. Explains where the famous inbuilt neurosis in New York Jews comes from. A brutal, universal portrayal of family life. The funniest thing I have read in a long long time. Every young man in his twenties tries at some point to write this novel and fails. Wonderful. Not a work of remarkable human insight and depth, but this is Philip Roth: the psychopathology of sleaze, if you please. (And, in case you’d forgotten the author’s surname, Vintage have clearly printed it on the cover in large letters. ROTH. Thanks Vintage!)


There's a lot to get to. Because on the one hand, if you're like me and your formative literary experience was largely shaped by David Foster Wallace--both in big novel experiences and in essay/literary critiques--then, unfortunately you come to Roth after the fact viewing him as one of the Great Male Narcissists. And this book does no favors trying to dissuade you from that perception. Here is a highly educated, motherly-smothered, Jewish, sex-crazed man who's entire ethos is Guilt. In a manner I think back to American Psycho (bear with me). Patrick Bateman's obsessed with pop-culture predilections (video tapes, music), yuppie lifestyle, sex and securing reservations at Dorsia. Except for the fact that all of that is really an understood facade. He doesn't give a shit about all that stuff, he gives a shit about being liked and accepted and his reaction to all that stuff is to go apeshit and torture hookers and stab the homeless. But with Portnoy it's like listening to a guy actually care about all that shallow stuff. Portnoy's very, sincere inner being is a compilation of deviance and repressions, as if that's what's at the center of a person. Granted, it's a framed narrative. And Portnoy's controlling and creating the story and thereby constricting it because he wants to talk about what's wrong with him with himself to his psychoanalyst. Ok, that's fine, but it still leaves the fact that I've got a neurotic mess of a person who's only motivation to act morally is shame-induced action. Granted all he and Bateman both want is to be liked, to be accepted, except, oh yeah, Bateman's a fucking psychopath. I see a lot of reviews from Jewish/Catholic/Protestant readers who identify with the guilt angle. But it all feels, like, so Freudian to me. And I understand the burden that guilt can play, but it's exhausting. It's like Portnoy can only understand his life through this lens of guilt. His motivations and actions are all understood through guilt and it ends up painting him into this shallower two-dimensional existence. And the real kicker to this is I feel bad that I'm coming down on this book so hard (am I ashamed of it? Perhaps Roth was not so wrong in thinking how propellent shame is to the human mind). But the fact remains that I couldn't like it. Not terrible, but definitely closer to one star than three stars.


Portnoy's Complaint is exactly that; the long first person complaint of an Alexander Portnoy, Port-Noir to goys, of how his Jewish upbringing has paralyzed him. At 33 years of age Alex is still hopelessly devoted to jerking off and other lewd sexual acts. Much to the chagrin of his devoted, doting, if not smothering Jewish parents he is not interested in marriage, least of all producing such re-ver-ed grandchildren. Phillip Roth is masterful with his execution of Portnoy's complaining;revealing bits and pieces of Alex's life by weaving the past and present together in a cohesive mix of memories and narrative. The novel starts out with Alex as a young boy and the trials and tribulations of growing up under the overly-watchful eye of two Jewish parents. Hamburgers, french fries, and football are just a few of the forbidden activities for our young Portnoy. If only his mother really knew what he was doing behind the bathroom door, she'd have locked him outside in his galoshes permanently. The conclusion of the novel is grounded much more in Alex's adult life. A successful Lawyer in NY, Alex begins to seriously sort out why he is the way he is. Can it all be blamed on his parents? Can he give in and become the Jew they've always dreamed him to be? With a nice Jewish wife and a couple of menshes padding down the hall?Overall the book is laugh out loud funny. It especially spoke to my own experience of growing up in New Jersey with a Jewish father (and subsequently a Jewish Grandmother), almost as bad as Alex's mother. The guilt that man was capable of with just one or two words was really award worthy. There are also the familiar yiddish words thrown around by the Portnoy's that emulated the Katz vernacular. Regardless of your religious orientatation this book is definetly worth reading.


If you can stomach stories about narcissistic self-love/hate spiced with sexual disfunction and peppered with Zionist, racist, sexist, anti-semetic, and homophobic prose, then this book might be worth your time. Yes, Roth is clever and, at times, amusing. Although I didn't laugh a single time, despite my high expectations for being tickled by this 'wildly funny' book. I suppose the misanthropy (and in particular, the gross misogyny) threw me off. WIth that off my chest, I can point out the redeemable aspects of this novel. The first is the description of the mother-child relationship. This particular study of the toxic combination of controlling mother and head-strong child makes this novel worth the read. The other redeemable quality is the structure. Many aspiring writers will have at some point tried to write a story in second person with the protagonist addressing his/her therapist (I know I have). Rarely have these stories worked. They usually fail because they are self-indulgent, boring, and lacking insight. Roth does manage to pull this off, and certainly this is not a boring book. Overall, the book is a rough read that illuminates little of the human condition. Unless, I suppose you're an anti-semetic, middle-aged Jewish man who enjoys self flagellation and taking everybody else down with him on his whiney descent into irreparable dysfunction. I, of course, am none of these things. Perhaps that is why I find this book more annoying than entertaining.

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