Sydney: US novelist Philip Roth, lauded for books such as the controversial “Portnoy’s Complaint,” won the biennial Man Booker International Prize on Wednesday for a body of work stretching over more than half a century.
Considered a master of capturing American identity and anguish, the 78-year-old Roth has received a number of other awards including two National Book Awards and a Pulitzer Prize.
“For more than 50 years, Philip Roth’s books have stimulated, provoked and amused an enormous and still expanding audience,” said Rick Gekoski, chair of the judging panel.
“His career is remarkable in that he starts at such a high level, and keeps getting better. In his 50s and 60s, when most novelists are in decline, he wrote a string of novels of the highest, enduring quality.”
In a video message, Roth said he was honoured.
“One of the particular pleasures I’ve had as a writer is to have my work read internationally despite all the heartaches of translation that entails,” he added.
The Man Booker International Prize honours a writer’s body of work as opposed to the annual Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is awarded for a single book.
Other nominees for the award included Rohinton Mistry, Philip Pullman, Anne Tyler, and — for the first time — two Chinese novelists, Wang Anyi and Su Tong.
British author John Le Carre, known for spy classics including “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” was shortlisted but rejected the nomination, saying he did not compete for literary prizes. However, the judges kept him on the list anyway, citing their admiration for his work.
Previous winners of the prize, which will be awarded in London on 28 June, were Canadian writer Alice Munro (2009), Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe (2007), and Albanian Ismail Kadare, who scooped the inaugural prize in 2005.
Nemesis and cataclysm
Roth is best known for full-length novels such as the 1969 “Portnoy’s Complaint” and the Pulitzer Prize-winner “American Pastoral” which featured favoured narrator Nathan Zuckerman.
“Nemesis,” released in October, is his latest work, about a young playground director’s internal struggle as his community is besieged by a polio epidemic in the 1940s.
Roth told Reuters at the time that he disliked e-books and the distracting influences of modern technology, which he felt diminish the ability to appreciate the aesthetic experience of reading books on paper.
“It is a shame. It is also what is happening, and there is nothing at all to do about it,” he said.
“The concentration, the focus, the solitude, the silence, all the things that are required for serious reading are not within people’s reach anymore.”
He added that all his recent short novels — “Nemesis” comes in at roughly 56,000 words — are tied together by the theme of “cataclysm.”
“It seem to me that is what life is all about: chance. Old men write books about cataclysms ... the intimacy with mortality makes your mind turn a certain direction.”