Resignation Over Philip Roth

As you’ve probably heard, “Super” Booker judge Carmen Callil resigned from the three-person jury after the latest of the Super Bookers went to Philip Roth. Her public remarks on the issue are as follows:

“I don’t rate him as a writer at all. I made it clear that I wouldn’t have put him on the longlist, so I was amazed when he stayed there. He was the only one I didn’t admire – all the others were fine,” said Callil, who will explain why she believes Roth is not a worthy winner in an outspoken column in the Guardian Review on Saturday 21 May. “Roth goes to the core of their [Cartwright and Gekoski’s] beings. But he certainly doesn’t go to the core of mine … Emperor’s clothes: in 20 years’ time will anyone read him?”

Founder of the feminist publishing house Virago, Callil is also the author of Bad Faith, a history of Vichy France. “I’ve judged many prizes before and I’ve rarely had my own favourite – it’s always a question of ‘I think X is a genius and you don’t, so let’s go for Y’. That didn’t happen,” she said. “We should have discussed everything more, but Philip Roth came out like a thunderbolt, and I was too surprised. We took a couple of days to brood, and then I spoke to Justin and said I thought I should give in, if I didn’t have to have anything to do with the winner. So I said I didn’t want my name attached to it, and retired. You can’t be asked to judge, and then not judge.”

She also remarked, “he goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It’s as though he’s sitting on your face and you can’t breathe.”

I’m not the biggest Roth partisan in the world, and I’ll leave it to others to argue the merits of his work, but even my decidedly cursory knowledge of his novels indicates that charges of “emperor’s clothes” and writing the same novel over and over are ridiculous. I’ll readily agree that at this point his oeuvre is puffed up with a lot of novels that won’t last, but he has given us a good 5 to 10 solid-to-stellar novels.

That’s no mean achievement. I have no idea if it’s worthy of a Super Booker–or even what exactly is the criteria of being worthy of a Super Booker–but I would argue that resigning over Roth’s selection for one is very poor form. Most reasonable people would agree that he’s in the conversation for leading novelists worldwide (he always lists at good odds on the Nobel shortlist), so this quite clearly comes off as sour grapes.

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I find “in 20 years’ time will anyone read him?” a strange question indeed about about a writer whose 40-50 year old books we’re still reading.

Human Stain and American pastoral go a long way towards depicting important American themes. This judge should have resigned a long time ago – before the decision was made.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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