Nemesis by Philip Roth
Philip Roth’s last book, The Humbling, was rather poor, and his previous two, Indignation and Exit Ghost, were okay but not up to his high standards. It is a joy to be able to say, then, that Nemesis is up to those high standards and then some. It’s a book set in Newark, a common Roth setting, because it’s his home town, but it’s set in 1944. The main character is Bucky Cantor, a 23 year old who was exempted from the draft because of his eyesight, but clearly feels guilty about this, especially as his friends have gone to war.
The guilt theme is then expertly developed, as a polio outbreak affects the community, and Bucky, who works as a playground director, has to watch as children he knows gradually succumb to the disease. And although he’s well respected in the community, and there’s rarely a harsh word said to him, Roth somehow keeps him in doubt and off balance. Eventually Bucky gets out of town to a summer camp where his girlfriend works… but guilt follows him there too. It should be a slight story, but the precision of the writing and the handling of themes make this a stunning return to form for Roth. [Keir Hind]
Out Now. Published by Jonathan Cape. Cover price £16.99