Portnoy's Complaint

Portnoy's Complaint

by Philip Roth

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The groundbreaking novel that propelled its author to literary stardom: told in a continuous monologue from patient to psychoanalyst, Philip Roth's masterpiece draws us into the turbulent mind of one lust-ridden young Jewish bachelor named Alexander Portnoy. 

Portnoy's Complaint n. [after Alexander Portnoy (1933- )] A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: 'Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are plentiful; as a consequence of the patient's "morality," however, neither fantasy nor act issues in genuine sexual gratification, but rather in overriding feelings of shame and the dread of retribution, particularly in the form of castration.' (Spielvogel, O. "The Puzzled Penis," Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse, Vol. XXIV, p. 909.) It is believed by Spielvogel that many of the symptoms can be traced to the bonds obtaining in the mother-child relationship.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307744050
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/13/2011
Series: Vintage International
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 151,946
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

In 1997 Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. In 1998 he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House and in 2002 the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction. He twice won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award. He won the PEN/Faulkner Award three times. In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians’ Prize for “the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003–2004.” Roth received PEN’s two most prestigious awards: in 2006 the PEN/Nabokov Award and in 2007 the PEN/Bellow Award for achievement in American fiction. In 2011 he received the National Humanities Medal at the White House, and was later named the fourth recipient of the Man Booker International Prize. He died in 2018.



Date of Birth:

March 19, 1933

Place of Birth:

Newark, New Jersey


B.A. in English, Bucknell University, 1954; M.A. in English, University of Chicago, 1955

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Portnoy's Complaint 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 54 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Easily the funniest -- and one of the most gratifying -- books I've ever read. Having avoided it for many years (it was published when I was a kid) because I remembered the adults in my (American Jewish) family reacting so adversely to it, I finally gave it a try when I was in my 30s, and I couldn't stop laughing. If I'd read this book as a young woman, it would have saved me 20 years of therapy, because there, on every page, was the kind of neurosis that so many (I'd wager) American Jews -- and possibly American immigrants in general -- experience, and why/how they experience it, and how it gets passed on. It's not just about sex; it's about all the familial (particularly) and social forces that work on us to make us the way we are, and how we're stifled, suffocated. And it's done with incredible humor. It's also a gutsy book, because it paints such an honest, if unflattering, picture, which exposed Roth to the (unwarranted) wrath of mainstream American Jewry. As for the assaults on Roth's (and his narrator's) personality, the accusations of misogyny, etc. -- all beside the point. This book, along with Roth's others, is funny, sharply intelligent, right on point, and a great read. As a reader, that's all that matters to me. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Roth's story of Alex Portnoy is hands down one of the most amazing books you'll ever read. It's a book of flow, a tide you never want to get off. I can't begin to explain how amazing it is: the story of a young Jewish man battling libido and his mother's eternal guilt.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this is one of the funniest books ever written. As a woman it has also helped me to understand some of what men may be experiencing (or maybe not!) Anyway, I laughed so hard I cried.
booknerd06 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Portnoy's Complaint is Roth's greatest work. This is the kind of book that you will think about long after you read it.
Sean191 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the second or third book I've read from Roth. The first, When She Was Good, I hated, but appreciated. I hated it because the "she" of the title was a despicable character in my opinion. Yet, Roth's talent was evident, so I could only be annoyed that he created such a high level of disgust in me about a fictional character. Portnoy's complaint started the same way for me. The title character, Alexander Portnoy is telling the tale through his recount to his psychiatrist. So he starts, naturally, at the beginning - his childhood. The story at the early stages were grinding. I couldn't stand his parents, although Roth's writing did elicit a few laughs at that point. Then I thought, maybe that's what he wanted. What most writers would want - for the reader to empathize with their characters... .Anyway, the story continues through Portnoy's life documenting plenty of mistakes and moral failures along the way. With his parents in the picture less (although always there lurking in the background) I enjoyed the story more.This book often hits top 100 lists. he writing is topnotch. I believe possibly when it was released it was trailblazing as far as content and was probably a hot topic at cocktail parties for its racy descriptions and language. However, with decades passing and far more "in your face" books written since (some also managing topnotch writing) the impact is blunted. If I hadn't been exposed to those other books, or the words that were likely to have caused a buzz when they were in print back in the '60s . I imagine the best way to look at this is like one might look at some bands from the past that while comparatively, might not be as well-rounded as a successor, were still the originators of something original and worthwhile and worthy of emulation.Oh and I nearly forgot - the ending struck me as very Vonnegut - unless Roth did it first, in which case, Vonnegut's endings strike me as very Rothian...
Matt_Sessions on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT is about a man named Portnoy complaining. The titular character is a textbook Neurotic Jew, with every cliche within that descriptor thrown into the mix. His parents fulfill similar arch expectations, equally as cookie-cutter as their son. The narrative is driven by Portnoy's mammoth Oedipus complex and rambling musings. This novel is far too long, with numerous already-dead horses being savagely beaten over the course of the plot. The voice itself has little redeeming qualities to it; Portnoy himself is bland and unsympathetic, and his story is rarely interesting. The book has occasional bursts of humor and very rare bits of insight. Beyond that, it is an unfocused and unengaging novel about the most interesting topics of all: family and sex.
suesbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was very well-writeen, but I didn't care for it too much. It was tedious, and I grew tired of Portnoy's personality. I much prefer his "Plot Against America." Neither women nor men were portrayed positively in Portnoy; I found it misanthropic.
ChicGeekGirl21 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Ridiculously naughty and neurotic. Alex Portnoy is the horny, guilt-ridden Jewish man of every shiksa's dreams and nightmares.
williamcostiganjr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I normally don't care for books that go out of their way to be funny, but this one is freakin' hilarious. It's undoubtedly the funniest book I've ever read, and I had a smile on my face the whole way through. Highly recommended.
Alirambles on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like 289 pages of an episode of Seinfeld. Portnoy's parents are George's parents. Portnoy is a combination between George and Kramer. Alas, there is no Jerry, so it wasn't as funny as Seinfeld.
bexaplex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
No wonder Portnoy's Complaint is on everybody's top whatever list; it's the Great American Novel of the latter 20th century. Freudian sexual dysfunction, identity politics, and cultural alienation are all described with a self-conscious irony. The relentless grounding of Portnoy's problems in the physical made me laugh hysterically the first time I read it; the second time I wasn't sure which parts were meant to be funny. But reading the 1994 edition clears it all up: Roth helpfully includes an afterword in which he claims he got all the ideas for his books from a lost piece of paper in a roast-beef-serving cafeteria in 1956. Ha, ha. What's funnier - a literary masterpiece about masturbation or people who think a novel about masturbation is a literary masterpiece?Why only 3 stars? By the second reading, the shades of meaning were beginning to intrude on the funniness; I get the feeling that if I read it again I'll only learn more about Freud and won't laugh at all.
silby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wandering, dramatic look at the psyche of a Jewish man growing up in mid-century New Jersey. Read for class, 3/2008.
the_awesome_opossum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So, Philip Roth has been doing awkward teenage humor and dysfunctional families for a lot longer than, say, Napoleon Dynamite. The feelings of fumbling sexuality and the ubiquitous fear of not fitting in ooze sebaceously off every page, so most of the time the reader is torn between laughing at Alex Portnoy's recollections and cringing. The entire thing is narrated to a psychologist, so Alex has the same sort of wry understanding of his younger self as the reader does. It's a well-written, if sometimes terribly awkward, account of being a teenager
Katie_H on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my second book by Roth, and I still don't understand the hype that surrounds him, but I haven't given up yet! The plot of this novel is hard to explain, so I'll do my best. The narrative is 30-something Alex Portnoy's long obnoxious rant to his psychiatrist, where he comes to terms with his miserable life. There are two main themes present: the first centers around growing up Jewish in 1950s America, and the second is about a his sexual maturation process, and all of the escapades that went along with it (both solo and in relationships). The book is vulgar, over the top, and downright pornographic at times, but it is jam-packed with humor that keeps the story moving along. One of the earlier chapters is entitled "Whacking Off," which gives an idea of the overall tone of the novel, and there were especially funny sections that I felt compelled to read aloud to my husband. One of the most memorable and hilarious scenes involves the use of liver for masturbation, a piece of liver that later finds its way to the family dinner table (remember the pie scene in American Pie?). All in all, while very funny, I think I completely missed the point on this one. The story felt dated, and I really disliked the character of Alex, so I found it hard to empathize with him.
CosmicBullet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a crazy funny book, and a fairly easy read. Roth's narrator, Alex Portnoy, describes firsthand the layers of neuroses that attach to being raised in a Jewish family. The inescapable and ceaseless siren call of sexuality and the incredibly smothering love of the parents, especially the mother - these two warring forces seem to have created the complicated human being that is Alexander Portnoy. This story reveals an essential distillate of what motivates every young male coming of age - some families experience it more perhaps, and some less.
amydross on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Disturbing and discomfiting at times, but I have to give props to any book that actually makes me laugh out loud. The ending is a little weak, but even after all this time, it's amazing how fresh and surprising Portnoy's voice is, how brutally honest his analysis of family life. I'm still trying to make sense of the fact that this was once a nationwide bestseller... does that mean that every jew in America read it? Or has it been read by non-jews? And if so, what on earth did they make of it?
brakketh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book despite getting it before knowing what it was about. I found the Jewish character's neuroticism very amusing.
TheCriticalTimes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Portnoy's Complaint is not for the faint of heart or those who aren't inclined to read a novel that is far out of their comfort zone. To say the least. Philip Roth presents us here with the dark inner workings of what we've always suspected everyone else's brain is like but what really reflects what goes on in our own heads during our most frank moments towards ourselves. We read the ranting and ravings of a 'nice Jewish boy' in session with his therapist. Ironically the perspective isn't that of the therapist, which would be the traditional way of telling the story. Instead this is the 'unedited' stream of consciousness of Portnoy himself.Perhaps a central theme of this novel is one man's confrontation with his past and his upbringing and how that has shaped his current life. As the reader we're left to guess what is fact, what is fiction and most of all what really contributed to Portnoy's extreme behavior and train of thought.We learn that poor young Portnoy was the victim of an overbearing mother and a nondescript father. Both parents clearly know where their son should go and where he should end up in life. As you might expect from the Jewish angle in this book, the main means by which both parents (mostly the mother) steer their son is through endless waves of guilt. As so many times in character situations of this nature, the nature of the guilt is sex. In the case of Portnoy sex, or rather masturbation, was the only way in which he could separate himself from his family, specifically his mother. It was the only way in which he could maintain some sort of control over his own body and a sense of self. It sounds extreme, and it is, but from the story we learn that Portnoy's mother asserts control over her son in even intimate physical ways. Over the course of the novel we learn what deep effects Portnoy's upbringing has over his personal life. We also read how from the outside Portnoy is a well respected professional and outstanding member of society. Nothing about this man is normal however and Roth cleverly and clearly shows how many deviants can portray a facade completely different on the outside as to what is going on on the inside.Whether Philip Roth was using intuition, personal experience or a lot of research into this particular domain of twisted relationships will forever remain a mystery. It is clear however that Roth plays the analyst as well as the patient and does so in a convincing way even though the events and thoughts of the protagonist are in most cases highly exaggerated. At least so we assume. Even though this type of extreme confrontational writing is not my preferred reading it does from time to time make it worth while past time, but only from the hands of a skilled writer. Roth shakes you up but he does it with a lot of humor and respect.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A hysterical soliloquy of a self induglent, sex obsessed man to his therapist. Portnoy's Complaint is a ridculously funny, magnificently well written, and strangely engaging whine. Yes it is lewd - but the highlights are actually the heartwarming vignettes of his family - the portions dealing with how is he treated by his adult parents had me in tears. While I do prefer the narrative based Zuckerman series, I can see why this is the Roth book that is usually highlighted in the "best of" lists - the novelty of the structure, combined with his ability to keep the laughter going constantly together create great book.
phollando on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Philip Roth's fourth book, Portnoy's Complaint was the one that made his reputation for the newly crowned Booker International Prize winner and long touted for the Nobel Prize for literature. The book is a flowing and humorous monologue by Alexander Portnoy to his virtually silent psychoanalyst. It is a venerable tour de force of New Jersey Jewish neurosis and guilt.Portnoy's complaint is an odyssey of sexual addiction. His early onanistic habit kept him locked in the toilet so much that he had to invent diarrhoea as an excuse, for which his high-strung mother assumes is caused by his eating fries instead of coming home to a hearty meal and which his eternally constipated father, jealous of Alex's free-flowing bowels, hammers at the door demanding to see evidence in the bowl (a very funny scene which is parodied in the Simpsons where a young Krusty the Clown is caught practising clowning in the toilet by his overbear Rabbi father).As Portnoy matures, well at least ages, we see a succession of girlfriends and ever more bizarre sexual antics. A full-bodied but flat chested woman he calls the pumpkin, an emotionally stilted but sexually adventurous woman he calls the monkey and finally a Jewish woman he meets in Israel who resembles his mother but whom finds him somewhat repugnant.It could be very easy to dismiss this book as just literary pornography but Roth uses sex to examine deeper themes, history, culture, identity, family. Themes he continues to develop in his later works such as American Pastoral and the Plot Against America, all told from Jewish characters living in or around New Jersey. I'd say for this reason that his is almost an American Mordecai Richler just a damn site dirtier.I said that the psychoanalyst was almost silent, he has one line, the last one: 'So [said the doctor]. Now vee may to perhaps begin. Yes?'. Funny but don't let anyone read it over your shoulder!
yooperprof on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
New Jersey Jewish boy grows up with sexual hang-ups in the 1940s and 50s and eventually becomes a real schmuck. Interesting historically - this was an enormous best-seller in the sexually liberating 1960s - but not as literature. Little plot, and less character development. Essentially a comic sketch that overstays its welcome.
NoLongerAtEase on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although many critics seem to think Portnoy's Complaint is a foundational work in the Philip Roth canon, and although I'm tempted, cetaris paribus, to agree with them, I don't think the book measures up to Roth's later endeavors.Sure enough, Portnoy a good piece of writing. There are laugh out loud moments and well crafted, engaging set pieces. The protagnist's trip to Davenport Iowa , being one of the best. The self-conscious stream of consciousness soap-boxy quality of the prose makes Portnoy mechanically interesting and shows the young Roth developing in an interesting way. But, in the end, the content of Portnoy strikes me as rather dated and of less enduring interest than later Roth. Insofar as the "dated-ness" of the novel is concerned, I will be brief. The central complaint is this: Freud is basically bullshit. That several generations of intelligentsia and literary types were ardent Freudians is tragic. Given that "repression", in the technical Freudian sense, is one of the main themes of this novel there's really no way to avoid the feeling of datedness. It's not as though the psychiatric couch presentation of the book is *just* some elaborate dues ex machina, as, perhaps, might be found in a novel that assumes the existence of witches or the truth of phrenology as a means of making a deeper point. No, Freud is the main course in Portnoy, and its point, at least as I read it, has been marinated in ids, egos, and the presupposition that ole' Sigmund had solved (QED) the outstanding problems of the mind. The second of Portnoy's main problems is a narrowness of scope. It's *too* autobiographical. What makes much of Roth's later work so much better, so much more interesting and powerful, is that he is able to take the autobiographical themes found in Portnoy (being Jewish in a Goyish world, baffling masturbatory obsessions, Newark during the second world war, etc) and integrate them seamlessly into stories with a wider scope. American Pastoral, for example, covers all the same old ground, but also makes perceptive judgments about the situation of a whole generation of people and perhaps about our historical situation in post-60s America.Although I *was* born in Newark, not having had an overbearing Jewish mother, a browbeaten Jewish father, a libido that functions as an override switch for all others facets of life, and a set of reckless desires born of such a libido, I find myself unable to relate to Portnoy on any deep level.
beelzebubba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can only imagine that when this book was published in 1969, it probably caused quite a stir, due to the language and subject matter. And there are certain images I will always remember: the bread knife, his father's constant constipation, ¿The Monkey,¿ getting it in the eye, etc... He painted such a vivid picture, I leave the book almost feeling as if I had been the one experiencing much of it. And having grown up in a Catholic family, I always thought my parents were the experts at engendering repression and meting out guilt. They were rank amateurs compared with Portnoy's parents.
mashcan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a very funny book about what it is to be a male.
miriamparker on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think that when publishers write "hilarious" on book jackets they should think "is this as funny as Portnoy's Complaint?" If not, then hilarious does not apply.