16 October 2006

Operation Shylock

It's hard to know how to read this novel, which bills itself as "A Confession," purports to be true in its explanatory preface, and features characters named after Philip Roth, Claire Bloom, Aharon Applefeld, and other real people. You know it's fiction, so you want to avoid questions of what really happened, but the autobiographical manner and the recurrent references to real people and events make this difficult.

So when a doppelganger is introduced, you're feeling surprisingly credulous, and you're drawn into an outlandish story step by plausible step. Author Philip Roth has a double, also named Philip Roth (and representing himself to be the author), who is in Israel launching a movement to send its Jews back to Europe. In the process, Roth 2 has made an odd set of alliances—with Lech Walesa, the JDL, and the PLO. Roth 1, in Israel to interview the novelist Aharon Applefeld for the Times, confronts Roth 2, who refuses to desist. Outraged and bemused by turns, Roth 1 allows himself to be mistaken for Roth 2, and even actively impersonates Roth 2.

Adventures ensue.

The story ends with a big chunk missing, it is explained, for security reasons. On the endleaf, a standard disclaimer reminds you that the book is, after all, fiction.

An interesting, well-written novel, but rather unwieldy and exhausting. It's been a while since I've read any metafiction, so I guess I'm out of practice.

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