_Portnoy’s Complaint_

This novel by Philip Roth is number 52 on the “Top 100 best English language novels of the 20th century.” I’ve talked about this list before, and I’d said how I’ve read a number of them already.

I hadn’t read Portnoy’s, although I’d read another more recent Roth novel, The Human Stain.

That one was really good. Interesting characters, challenging themes, plot twists, all good stuff. I figured I would like Portnoy too.

Mm. Portnoy’s Complaint came out in ’67. I think the author has matured quite alot by the time he got to Human Stain.

Intresting how there are some similar themes: Female who is illiterate, Jewishness, Racism, Sex.

But PC positively reeks of the sixties. I think, what with the sexual revolution and all that, the on-going topic of masturbation was much more compelling than it is now. And I guess all of Portnoy’s sexual exploits were supposed to be deviant and shocking.

Gotta tell ya, they just aren’t anymore. Other than his obsession with choking his chicken as an adolescent, his main sexual sin seems to be fulfilling his fantasy of sleeping with two women at once.


This is regular prime-time fare in the naughty aughts. What shocked in the 60s is discussed around the dinner table this side of the 20th century.

I found his resentment of his family to be a far more interesting story line. And his Jewishness. Ethnic distinctions have also faded in importance by now, but it is interesting to remember how important they used to be.

I’m glad that I’ve read Human Stain already, it lets me know that the author has also progressed with the times. The Anti-Semitism that is the obsession of Portnoy is completely outside of my own experience. And the 90s setting of Human Stain reflects that cultural change. In some ways, chronicles it.

But that’s another review.

Portnoy’s Complaint seems like an artifact now. Perhaps the reasons it is so heralded is because it said some things for the first time. It does not come to any kind of conclusions. It just states a problem, Portnoy’s problem.

I don’t identify with him that much. And even if I did, he never offers any kind of solution. He’s just complaining.

One thought on “_Portnoy’s Complaint_

  1. I LOVE PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT. I thought it was brilliantly crafted and amazyingly subtle in its over exaggeration of the sexual tension Portnoy was experiencing. His journey was unlike other protagonists in which he moved, but the story did not. You’re right in saying that he was “just complaining” but I think that revealed much more about him and the time in which he lived than had he actually progressed past his sexual upsets and episodes. but the again I am partial, since I have not yet read Human Stain and I am younger and can recognize what he is going through in his younger years that developes into his full blown obsession and hinderance in his adult, fully mature sexual state