‘Deception’ by Philip Roth – Sketchy at Best


‘Deception’ by Philip Roth (1990) – 202 pages

‘Deception’ is a novel that consists entirely of dialogue, most of it between a man named Philip and his mistress. Their trysts and their conversations take place in a room in London that Philip has rented to get the privacy he needs to write his novels.

There are not even “He said” or “She said” openings, so we don’t even know for sure who is saying which lines, although the context of the words usually does indicate one or the other. The mistress is usually talking about her home and her husband who is also cheating on her. Philip is usually quiet while he listens to her or otherwise he is making political or boorish or misogynist or racist against black people or above all self-centered comments. Philip is opinionated.

Philip Roth published this novel in 1990, the same year he married his longtime companion Claire Bloom. Roth was set to give the name of Claire to the wife who Philip is cheating on in ‘Deception’. However Claire Bloom saw this use of her name as “nasty and insulting” and Roth finally relented. Their marriage only lasted about four years. Bloom soon after wrote a memoir in which she portrayed Roth as a self-centered misogynist.

I found the dialogue between Philip and his mistress completely lacking in charm or romance with Philip constantly using the F-word to describe their physical relationship. Also I did not think Roth did a very effective job of capturing how a woman would speak.

There is also a subplot about Philip’s affairs with two young Czech women, also told in dialogue only, which for me did not coalesce into a coherent narrative.

In his boorishness, Philip does make some valid points as an author that other writers are too polite to make.

As though it’s purity that’s the heart of a writer’s nature. Heaven help such a writer! As if Joyce hadn’t sniffed at Nora’s underpants. As though in Dostoyevsky’s soul, Svidrigailov never whispered. Caprice is at the heart of a writer’s nature. Exploration, fixation, isolation, venom, fetishism, austerity, levity, perplexity, childishness, et cetera. The nose in the seam of the undergarment. Impurity.”

Anyhow I was quite disappointed with ‘Deception’ up until about the last thirty pages when Philip’s cheated-upon wife confronts him. At this point we get the real subject of the novel which is writers’ use of their own autobiography or their own imagination in the fiction they write.

I write fiction and I’m told its autobiography, I write autobiography and I’m told it’s fiction, and since I’m so dim and they’re so smart , let them decide what it is or isn’t.”

These last thirty pages do not entirely redeem the mess that comes before, but at least they brighten things up a little with some relevant observations.

I have read some meaningful and worthwhile novels by Philip Roth including ‘The Ghost Writer’, ‘American Pastoral’, and ‘The Plot Against America’; however ‘Deception’ is not one of them.

If you want to appreciate Philip Roth as a writer and as a person, don’t read ‘Deception’.


Grade:    C+



5 responses to this post.

  1. The only Roth I’ve read is more recent Roth, but I confess I *am* a little wary of him because of the reports of misogyny. I’ll avoid this one…

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi kaggsy,
      Yeah, Philip Roth might be one of those authors who will be almost forgotten now that he is gone. That is what has seemed to happen to Updike. I did like a few of Roth’s novels though.

      Liked by 1 person


  2. Roth is one of those writers who’ve been added to The Canon You Should Avoid because he is an Old White Man. It’s as if he never wrote anything worthwhile, and all those people who’ve been reading him for decades are deluded misogynists.
    I haven’t read this one, so I can’t comment on it, but I think he’s written some fine books, and the most recent one of his late short novels that comes to mind is Nemesis, which is about the human tragedy of polio epidemics in the years just before the polio vaccine became available.
    I certainly won’t be forgetting him…

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Good for you that you don’t go every which way the wind seems to be blowing. I guess I should have picked Nemesis to read instead of Deception. I do find his historical novels more interesting than the ones that were more about his current self. I didn’t really care for Portnoy’s Complaint or this one Deception, but The Plot Against America was very good and also The Ghost Writer.
      Being an Old White Man myself, I am not too prejudiced against them. 🙂



      • I think identity politics is loathsome: it’s just a new way of judging people by their skin colour or age or class or gender, and I think it’s just as morally wrong as any other kind of prejudging people. Deception may be a lousy book, but if it is, it’s not because it’s written by an old white man, it’s because the author has failed to make it interesting or perceptive or persuasive…



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