Did anyone believe Philip Roth when, earlier this year, he announced that he was retiring from writing? Of all contemporary novelists, he is the one who has made writing seem a necessary and continuous act, inextricable from the continuities and struggles of being alive. For Roth, narration and self seem to have been born together; and, therefore, must die together, too. More than any other modern novelist, he has used fiction as confession and the displacement of confession: his ranters, complainers and alter egos, from Portnoy to Zuckerman to Mickey Sabbath all seem Rothian, even when they are only standing in for Roth. He has made his Newark childhood, his loving, annoying parents, his Jewishness, his sexuality, his very writing life familiar and vivid to millions of readers. He has seemed to need fiction as a kind of relentless performative report, which is why, in recent years, the great novels (Sabbath’s Theater, American Pastoral) have shared space with much weaker works, and why he has been so productive; the fiction at once urgent and a bit scrappy, as necessary as art and as helpless as life.
more from James Wood at The Guardian here.