There was something dramatically overwrought about first the publication and then the pulping of Blake Bailey’s Philip Roth: The Biography. The themes, the moral issues and the ironies involved in the rise and fall of both the book and its author were all so conspicuously pointed, as if they had been conceived by a hack writer seeking to pay homage to a more skilled documenter of cultural conflict like, say, Roth himself.

First there was Bailey’s all-too-evident pride, bordering on hubris, at having landed the Roth gig. The last giant of American letters, Roth was in many respects a biographer’s dream – a semi-reclusive enigma with a rich and disputed private life, a trove of disguised autobiographical fiction to unpack, and a genuine literary celebrity who was revered as a genius and reviled as a misogynist.

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