Payne’s Complaint

Had a first for Book Club this month, in that I disliked both of the choices. In fact one I would go as far as saying I despised, which is unusual for me. I can usually see some redeeming features in any book I read and maybe in time I will with this one, but not at the moment.
So, the book: Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint. I can imagine when the novel was released in 1969 it caused an uproar due to its sexually explicit material, so I guess Roth deserves some credit for pushing the boundaries. According to some of our members its a laugh-out-loud funny read, which surprised me as for most of it the only urge I had was to gouge out my eyes with a rusty spoon. I found the narrative voice so boring. Portnoy is an arrogant, self-centred prat, to put it mildly. The novel is structured as a continuous monologue from Portnoy to his psychiatrist, mostly taking about his sexual experiences that are taking on an ever extreme turn. Whilst being disgusted by his deviancy Portnoy can’t help himself, wanting more and more dubious sexual pleasures.
OK, a fair theme to mine. I wasn’t put off by the sexual stuff (although masturbating into a piece of liver that is then unknowingly served for the family dinner is not pleasant to say the least), just the endless repetition of it. The writing itself jarred with me too. Using capital letters and exclamation marks in descriptive passages is always a cop-out in my opinion. In good writing the reader should know how a sentence is being said, whether loud or angry or sad etc; using extra punctuation to drive home the point is not the way to go.
It was safe to say that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. Indeed, a couple of members failed to finish the book at all. Others loved it, so I’d call it a ‘Marmite’ book and move on.
Our second choice was Karen Joy Fowler’s We are Completely Beside Ourselves, which deals with a young girl who grows up with a chimpanzee for a sister. The structure of the novel is not linear, so this revelation comes about 75 pages in. And yes, it was a twist that I didn’t see coming. There was some interesting stuff on the effects her childhood had on the narrator Rosemary, who grew up into a non-responsive adult who spoke more with gesture than voice. But unfortunately my overriding thought came from a documentary I saw recently about Americans who had chimps as pets. Most of these people were, to put it bluntly, stupid. Trying to equate a chimp with a child and excuse its natural, aggressive behaviour is idiotic and infuriated me when I watched it. I could never detach that memory whilst reading this novel which in the end spelt its downfall.
So not much success for me this month, and my first real struggle with the material at hand. All part of the reading process I suppose…

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