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Portnoy's Complaint

3.70  ·  Rating details ·  62,542 ratings  ·  3,220 reviews
Thrust through life by his unappeasable sexuality and at the same time held back by the iron grip of his childhood, Alexander Portnoy is one of Philip Roth's most intriguing and hilarious characters. "A deliciously funny book, absurd and exuberant, wild and uproarious".--The New York Times. ...more
Hardcover, 274 pages
Published 2002 by Random House (first published 1969)
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Average rating 3.70  · 
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 ·  62,542 ratings  ·  3,220 reviews

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Glenn Sumi
Updated May 22, 2018: R.I.P. Philip Roth. Author of some of the defining works of the late 20th century (and even some of the early 21st). What a magnificent second act you had... and what a legacy you leave behind.


21 Random Thoughts After Reading Philip Roth’s Classic Portnoy’s Complaint 46 Years After Its Controversial Publication

1. I’ve read three or four Philip Roth books, but how have I never read this, which catapulted him to literary fame – or at least notoriety and celebrity – in the
Aug 28, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Sarah's other pervey friends
Recommended to Malbadeen by: Sarah (what a perv)
It's recently been brought to my attention that my book reviews frequently are not actually about the book. And I'm wondering why would you want to know about the book when all you have to do is click on the little blurb about the book and then get on with the fascinating reading about...oh, say where I bought my milk last Tuesday or my fondest/most traumatic childhood memory, etc, etc.
And, yet. I aim to please so here is my sincere attempt to tell you something about this book. It (the book) go
G.R. Reader
Feb 19, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Portnoy's Complaint was my first husband's favorite book, and he used to quote from it all the time. When we got divorced (it wasn't amicable), my lawyer asked how I'd feel about using that fact in court. I was strongly tempted but told him after careful consideration that it was below the belt.

As it turned out, my instincts were sound. The judge knew Philip Roth personally, and it would have been a disaster. I only discovered this several years later and was amazed at what a close call I'd had.
Em Lost In Books
What a dirty little book! Kudos to Mr. Roth for writing something this scandalous half a century ago.
Dave Schaafsma
'Enough being a nice Jewish boy. . . Let’s put the id back in yid”—Alex Portnoy

Portnoy's Complaint: "A disorder in which strongly felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature."

I have had a couple intense years of reading Roth, rereading some, but mostly reading much I had not read. Recently Roth died, RIP, and then I read his last four short books, and decided to come full circle back to my (I think it was) first and possib
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, reviewed

One can believe why the novel was shocking, scandalous even at time of release. It's both outrageous and amusing, and quite irreverent when it comes to the widely accepted values. I laughed a lot here, but to tell the truth I was slightly bored at times as well. I've never been to psychoanalytic yet, and I very much hope life would spare me that dubious pleasure in the future too, but the novel reads like you're furtively eavesdropping confessions of an anguished & neuritic, in Woody Allen style
Michael Finocchiaro
This is the book that made Philip Roth both famous and scandalous. Portnoy is a mother-obsessed sexual maniac and actually quite hilarious. Who else would have had his character masturbating with a cow liver other than the author of the equally darkly humorous Sabbath's Theater? This book and the reaction to it drives the Nathan Zuckerman series of books which all refer back to the public reaction with equal measures of awe and dismay. The book itself is a classic and extremely well-written as o ...more
Jun 29, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who are adventurous with offal
Recommended to Shovelmonkey1 by: 1001 books list
Shelves: 1001-books
Earlier today I grossly contradicted myself by stating that I'd enjoyed all the books I'd read which were written by Philip Roth. Then I realised I'd forgotten about Portnoy's Complaint.

There is a school of thought which says to write well you have to write about what you know. On that basis I know I definitely did not like this book, although that unfortunately does not guarantee that I will excel at writing about it. With that in mind Philip Roth is official King of writing about what you know

Alex Portnoy is in therapy. And boy, does he need it!! But rarely has therapy been this funny – at least from the outsider’s perspective.

Why this book was controversial when it was published in the 60s is obvious: it’s brutally honest and confessional about things that were (and sometimes still are) best not discussed in polite company (bowel movements and masturbation are just the tip of the iceberg here – I don’t think there’s a single PC page in this no
I have a vague memory that when I first read "Portnoy's Complaint" as a teenager -- I was probably 16 or 17 at the time -- I either carried my paperback copy with me to my grandmother's condo, or perhaps just mentioned to her that I was reading the book. What a mistake. She was displeased with my choice in reading material, and wasn't shy about letting me know. This was many years before Philip Roth won the Pulitzer Prize, making him somewhat more respectable to the American Jewish community. To ...more
The title is apt for this book, because the entire thing is a complaint, made by Alexander Portnoy to his shrink. Oh, boy.

Initially I put this on my TBR list because Joe Goldberg, the well-read psychopath in Caroline Kepnes' You and Hidden Bodies lists it as his favourite book. A bit of a twisted road to get to Philip Roth's infamous, sexually explicit work that caused a big splash when published in 1969.

While cleverly written and quite funny in some parts, the rant-like nature of this book got
Lubinka Dimitrova
Although I definitely enjoyed it more than Bukowski's Women, I've come to realise that books about middle-aged male Americans who spend their time navel-gazing and contemplating their relationship with their penis is probably not my cup of tea. The book was fun, but I strongly suspect that if it weren't for the narrator, I might have never finished it. Ron Silver is a brilliant reader, I doubt that I would have enjoyed the story more even if Roth himself was whispering it in my ear. ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thirty years after Roth wrote Portnoy's Complaint he won the Pulitzer Prize for American Pastoral. The reason is. . . he knows how to write. He writes with a boldness and bravado I favor. However, this is not a book for just anyone! If my grandmother had cracked open the cover, I assure you, the paramedics would have found her dead from a stroke or heart-attack, the book still open on her chest. Portnoy's Complaint has, within its almost 300 pages, more vulgarity and profanity than any other boo ...more
Jr Bacdayan
Hey, Roth! What’s with the smug smile on that face of yours? What’s with that satisfied look? You think you’re now a goy or something? Are you thinking of a shikse or something? Are you high? You think just because you wrote a bunch of anti-semitic, auto-erotic stuff you’re some bigshot? What’s the sense with that piece of crap? Don’t you dare turn your back on me you balding Kike! You wanker! You kosher prick! You… oh, where’s the sense in this? Come on, mate. Is this really just to ridicule so ...more
MJ Nicholls
Sep 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: merkins, novels
The definitive self-hating Jew novel. A searing literary stand-up performance par excellence. Woody Allen meets Bill Hicks. Explains where the famous inbuilt neurosis in New York Jews comes from. A brutal, universal portrayal of family life. The funniest thing I have read in a long long time. Every young man in his twenties tries at some point to write this novel and fails. Wonderful. Not a work of remarkable human insight and depth, but this is Philip Roth: the psychopathology of sleaze, if you ...more
Nov 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: constipated older Jewish men
Recommended to Mariel by: masterbators
I would have walked away in the conversation at the point of Portnoy proclaiming that he slept with the women that he did (anyone who would have him) as a way of conquering America. Essentially those who would not have him like historically against Jewish peoples (dude, you work for the mayor and are educated! You do what you want!). I am not Jewish and I wasn't alive in the '60s. Somewhere anyone is going to feel like that they don't belong. What I really liked about Portnoy's Complaint is the ...more
I'm in the mood for this now and it's reading like a breeze. God, it's probably shameful to admit that I AM PORTNOY, but it would be just like me to say that very thing and mirror the guilt of the guy in the book. You wish your parents could read this, especially my neat freak, worrywart mom. I think a lot of Catholic households and Jewish households are not a lot different. This shit is funny and real and insightful. If the rest of the book is as good as the first 50 pages then we shall be quit ...more
It's a miracle: I've finished this thing, this book. I thought to read the end as a commenter noted it was a shaggy dog story, which made me wonder what the punch-line was, but as I read about this woman he called "the monkey," I became so furious in how he wrote of her with such hatred that I had to know more about their relationship, which took me back another section, and then another, till I'd finally been led to read the entire dang book.

And while I was sure I'd write something hateful abo
Jun 10, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Portnoy's Complaint (1969) by Philip Roth is, according to the cover, "hysterically funny". It's not. Mildly amusing at best, and then only very sporadically. Predictably it also comes complete with the era's unreconstructed and anachronistic social attitudes. One or two passages might be funny if they were delivered by Woody Allen or a character in Seinfeld but that's about as far as I'd go.

It's hard work. Some sections are fairly interesting or entertaining but the majority is tedious. One lon
Matthew Ted
68th book of 2021.

I've had some trouble with Roth in that every time I see one of his books in a charity shop or a sale, I buy them, and over the years I've accumulated perhaps 5 or 6 Roth novels, and yet haven't (until now) read a single one. I would take one off the shelf and think, I haven't got this one, I must read some Roth, I must this. So I kept buying them and never managed to read them. According to Penguin, Portnoy's Complaint is the best novel to start with. It isn't his first novel,
May 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philip-roth
A very emotional read as a young man.

Come to think of it, as an old man also.

I would suggest keeping a box of tissues nearby.
Vit Babenco
Apr 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some spend their young years learning and some spend their young years masturbating. Well, maybe it’s some sort of rehearsing as well.
“Dreams? If only they had been! But I don't need dreams, Doctor, that's why I hardly have them – because I have this life instead. With me it all happens in broad daylight!”
Libido and psychoanalysis were invented to complement each other and to feed charlatans… On both sides.
Julie Ehlers
A round of applause for Portnoy’s Complaint. I can only imagine how daring and groundbreaking this book must have felt when it was first released in the late 1960s. An entire novel written as a rant to the narrator’s psychoanalyst! Imagine! And what’s more, the book manages to keep up its energy and momentum all the way through—it’s entertaining and funny, and insightful in the way only something truly groundbreaking can be. Honestly, despite all the responses and imitations this book no doubt e ...more
John Hatley
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to laugh out loud throughout this amazing book. Even if it might possibly be categorized as "X-rated humour", my only regret is that I didn't read it years ago! Many (if not all) of Roth's observations about American society in the late 1960s apply equally well today. Not much has changed. ...more
Nov 10, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Portnoy’s Complaint was on my radar when I watched my first episode of the ABC The Book Club. The book was Marieke Hardy pick of a classic and it received such high praise by the whole panel, describing it as funny, awkward, rude and a work of a genius.

Portnoy’s Complaint is a one sided conversation between Alex Portnoy and his psychoanalyst, of growing up in a Jewish household with loud, workaholic and overprotective parents, his sexual awakening, his career and his failure to commit to a lasti
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pure filth and various psychological complexes of a man and his relationship to his mother and the whole Jewish stress and anxiety.

Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Regular readers will remember that I'm in the middle of a long-term literary project right now, to read all eleven novels making up Philip Roth's autobiographical "Zuckerman cycle" in order to better understand the Postmodernist Era they discuss, from its start (right around Kennedy's assassination) to its
James Tingle
Aug 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The only Roth novel that I've read so far and I expect his other ones are wildly different and more somber and serious than this, but I certainly remember enjoying it. A long rant of a book, really, where the main character gets a lot of his inner baggage off his chest whilst talking to his psychiatrist. He goes into childhood traumas and disappointments and problems with his parents, but mainly, he rambles on at great length about women, relationships and his hectic sex life. It is a funny nove
Jan 21, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Woody Allen fans
Upon finishing this book, I heard myself say aloud (without warning): "that sucked."

There's a lot to recommend Roth as a writer and I think he's fully in control of what he's doing I just wish he were doing something else blah blah. This book is a 300-page monologue by a character who annoyed the crap out of me. Whatever fabulous edgy points Roth might have been making about the self-aggrandizement and self-congratulatory pseudolessons of psychotherapy, whatever incisive criticisms he may have b
Leo Robertson
I'm sure this was outrageous and hilarious at the time—now it's infrequently funny and really creepy.

Not sold on this one, neither done with Roth :)
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Philip Milton Roth was an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and in ...more

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