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Into Thin Air

He'd lost his magic. The impulse was spent. He'd never failed in the theater, everything he had done had been strong and successful, and then the terrible thing happened: he couldn't act. Going onstage had become agony. Instead of the certainty that he was going to be wonderful, he knew he was going to fail. It happened three times in a row, and by the last time nobody was interested, nobody came. He couldn't get over to the audience. His talent was dead.

Of course, if you've had it, you always have something unlike anyone else's. I'll always be unlike anyone else, Axler told himself, because I am who I am. I carry that with me—that people will always remember. But the aura he'd had, all his mannerisms and eccentricities and personal peculiarities, what had worked for Falstaff and Peer Gynt and Vanya—what had gained Simon Axler his reputation as the last of the best of the classical American stage actors—none of it worked for any role now. All that had worked to make him himself now worked to make him look like a lunatic. He was conscious of every moment he was on the stage in the worst possible way. In the past when he was acting he wasn't thinking about anything. What he did well he did out of instinct. Now he was thinking about everything, and everything spontaneous and vital was killed—he tried to control it with thinking and instead he destroyed it. All right, Axler told himself, he had hit a bad period. Though he was already in his sixties, maybe it would pass while he was still recognizably himself. He wouldn't be the first experienced actor to go through it. A lot of people did. I've done this before, he thought, so I'll find some way. I don't know how I'm going to get it this time, but I'll find it—this will pass.

It didn't pass. He couldn't act. The ways he could once rivet attention on the stage! And now he dreaded every performance, and dreaded it all day long. He spent the entire day thinking thoughts he'd never thought before a performance in his life: I won't make it, I won't be able to do it, I'm playing the wrong roles, I'm overreaching, I'm faking, I have no idea even of how to do the first line. And meanwhile he tried to occupy the hours doing a hundred seemingly necessary things to prepare; I have to look at this speech again, and by the time he got to the theater he was exhausted. And dreading going out there. He would hear the cue coming closer and closer and know that he couldn't do it. He waited for the freedom to begin and the moment to become real, he waited to forget who he was and to become the person doing it, but instead he was standing there, completely empty, doing the kind of acting you do when you don't know what you are doing. He could not give and he could not withhold; he had no fluidity and he had no reserve. Acting became a night-after-night exercise in trying to get away with something.

It had started with people speaking to him. He couldn't have been more than three or four when he was already mesmerized by speaking and being spoken to. He had felt he was in a play from the outset. He could use intensity of listening, concentration, as lesser actors used fireworks. He had that power offstage, too, particularly, when younger, with women who did not realize that they had a story until he revealed to them that they had a story, a voice, and a style belonging to no other. The became actresses with Axler, they became the heroines of their own lives. Few stage actors could speak and be spoke to the way he could, yet he could do neither anymore. The sound that used to go into his ear felt as though it were going out, and every word he uttered seemed acted instead of spoken. The initial source in his acting was in what he heard, his response to what he heard was at the core of it, and if he couldn't listen, couldn't hear, he had nothing to go on.

He was asked to play Prospero and Macbeth at the Kennedy Center—it was hard to think of a more ambitious double bill—and he failed appallingly in both, but especially as Macbeth. He couldn't do low-intensity Shakespeare and he couldn't do high-intensity Shakespeare—and he'd been doing Shakespeare all his life. His Macbeth was ludicrous and everyone who saw it said as much, and so did many who hadn't seen it. "No, the don't even have to have been there," he said, "to insult you." A lot of actors would have turned to drink to help themselves out an old joke had it that there was an actor who would always drink before he went onstage, and when he was warned "You musn't drink," he replied, "What, and go out there alone?" But Axler didn't drink, and so he collapsed instead. His breakdown was colossal.

The worst of it was that he saw through his breakdown the same way he could see through his acting. The suffering was excruciating and yet he doubted that it was genuine, which made it even worse. He did not know how he was going to get from one minute to the next, his mind felt as though it were melting, he was terrified to be alone, he could not sleep more than two or three hours a night, he scarcely ate, he thought every day of killing himself with the gun in the attic—a Remington 870 pump-action shotgun that he kept in the isolate farmhouse for self-defense—and still the whole thing seemed to be an act, a bad act. When you're playing the role of somebody coming apart, it has organization and order; when you're observing yourself coming apart, playing the role of your own demise, that's something else, something awash with terror and fear. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Revue de presse

“Elegant and brutal. . . . Direct and urgent, a taut and controlled fever-dream that demands to be experienced at a single sitting. . . . [He] is a master.” —The Los Angeles Times
“Convincing and powerful. . . . At 76, [Roth] is still a literary colossus whose ability to inspire, astonish and enrage his readers is undiminished.” —Elaine Showalter, The Washington Post

“Philip the great, Philip the audacious, the voracious, writes of bottomless hunger—emotional, sexual, existential. When you hear about a new Philip Roth novel, you have to read it. . . . Roth still has his chops.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
“Masterful. . . . Roth's best work in years; sentence for sentence, paragraph for paragraph, he's still the most readable serious writer we've got. . . . It's pleasant to read a book this tight, this efficiently constructed.”  —The Huffington Post
“Blooms brightly in the extraordinarily fecund garden of his late work. . . . A swift but piercing, uncluttered but nuanced morality tale.” —“Books We Like,” NPR
The Humbling unfolds in three acts of pristine economy, dramatic lucidity and unstoppable narrative momentum. . . . The dispassion that has always marked Roth’s narrative voice sometimes achieves the depth and simplicity of the best music or poetry. . . . The laughter keeps getting quieter and more knowing.” —The Plain Dealer
“A vitally important addition to Philip Roth’s already amazing body of work.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Artfully spry. . . . With punchy prose. . . . [The Humbling] is Roth’s best work since Sabbath’s Theater. It’s Goodbye, Columbus for big kids.” —The Dallas Examiner
“The novel . . . finds traction in familiar Rothian interrogations—of the self’s deviousness, the impossible murkiness of motive, and the performative nature of identity.” —The New Yorker
“Roth is a master of pacing. . . . [He is] a great writer, a great anatomist of passion. His admirers will find much to admire in The Humbling.” —The Oregonian
“Succinct and attention-grabbing. . . . Though the novels are shorter these days, they are no less provocative than his early ones.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“A daring experiment in late style.” —Slate
The Humbling should be read as a kind of Mortality Trilogy with The Dying Animal and Everyman, two other autumnal works from this great writer. Short, bitter and bracing, they lend the courage to see and endure what is.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Roth at his rawest. . . . Slim, bleak and sexy. . . . Roth’s writing flows gracefully.” —USA Today
“Roth writes movingly. . . . The compact intensity of Roth’s late fictions suits well the stark truths he explores in The Humbling. Here, he strips a man’s life to its essential movements, onto the light of the stage and off to the darkness of the wings when the curtains come down.” —The Post and Courier
“At 76 [Roth] is still leaving scorch marks on the page.” —Bloomberg News
“Forceful, haunting and unnervingly effective.” —The Toronto Star
“Compelling. . . . It takes an artist as gravely ludicrous as Roth to create a body of work in which intertextuality comes to be a brute condition of existence itself.”  —The Times Literary Supplement [UK]
 “A wild, skittering erotic scherzo. . . . Anyone who admires the tormented subjectivity, existential dread, winnowed language and corrosive gallows humour of, say, Thomas Bernhard and Samuel Beckett should feel at home in late Roth. . . . Yes, The Humbling takes his hero down to a naked place where self and skill evaporate: the word ‘nobody’ tolls like a Beckettian bell. But the show for Simon, for Roth, for fiction must go on.” —The Independent [UK]
“Masterly. . . . Powerfully dramatic. . . . We should be grateful that Roth continues to maintain his concentration on the terrible facts. . . . [The Humbling] is the most to-the-point, the most necessary work its author has published since The Dying Animal.” —London Review of Books
“Gripping. . . . The intense realism of some of the scenes is shocking and unforgettable. . . . Worthy of a David Lynch film. . . . [Roth] is the most courageous writer alive, and this is another brave move.” —The Guardian [UK] --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché .

Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 160 pages
  • Editeur : Vintage (2 septembre 2010)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0099535653
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099535652
  • Dimensions du produit: 12,9 x 1,1 x 19,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (3 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 67.629 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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8 internautes sur 8 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par odawara sur 20 avril 2010
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
une histoire classique a la Roth, homme age et jeune fille, qui peut finir par lasser et pourtant .... car cette histoire amoureuse/sexuelle n'est qu'un pretexte a un discours tellement puissant et essentiel : nos masques, nos comedies et nos mensonges. Vivre a l'ecart de soi meme. Le protagoniste ressent une incapacite a continuer a faire l'acteur. Il vit bien, il est celebre mais il ne peut plus faire semblant d'etre quelqu'un d'autre ! Une fois sur scene tout son etre refuse de continuer a etre quelqu'un d'autre et il echoue lamentablement. Une crise s'en suit. Salutaire ou pas ? Va t-il se confronter a son etre ou chercher a rebondir sur une enieme scene ? A lire !
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Par M-Laure Bachmann sur 27 novembre 2012
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
Remarquable! Belle écriture, économe et juste. Les liens entre les différents événements (qui ne vont pas de soi a priori), concourrent à l'atmosphère à la fois dramatique et feutrée du récit.
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Par Monique L. sur 10 décembre 2011
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Ce livre est arrivé en excellent état .
Le roman est le constat d'un homme vieillissant,acteur célèbre pour qui tout "fout le camp " .Style sobre.
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77 internautes sur 88 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Humbug 9 novembre 2009
Par Mary Murrey - Publié sur
Format: Relié
Don't get me wrong. Philip Roth's work deservedly belongs in the category of "Great American Literature", if we insist on such a category. I've always eagerly bought almost all his work--willing to pay for the hardback, I couldn't wait to get my hands on his latest book, and his world. I think his best novel is AMERICAN PASTORAL. This is great literature. But lately.... I don't know. Maybe we should call it the Woody Allen Effect. Old writer/auteur who has written classics, great work, has run out of steam and obsessed with himself and sex with younger women--his major driving force--can only write this theme over and over, which may be fascinating to him, but is borish and repetitive to most others. It's amazing that I haven't seen one negative review of Roth's new novel, THE HUMBLING in any major newspaper or magazine.Maybe the fact that the reviews, such as in the NTY's, are so short say something. I think critics are afraid of him.

The novel starts out well enough, interesting in fact... I believe,for some brief period that I'm with the master Roth, but alas, I'm not. My husband put the novel down on page 9 when we learn summarily that the protagonist's wife of twenty-some years, Victoria, has left without any believable reason other that Roth writes that it is so--i.e. her son's drug problem and her inability to put of his demanding, apparently never-ending negativity. "After the Kennedy Center debacle and his unexpected collapse, Victoria fell apart and fled to California to be close to her son." The entire marriage is summarized in about two pages.

The book is an OUTLINE. I would love to read about the protagonist, Simon Axler--an aging man losing his powers,in this case, his ability to get on the stage and pretend, that is to act. My God, what an existential situation! Wouldn't you love to know the gritty details, the unpleasant physical and psychological and quotitian details of his descent into mortality, and the accompanying lack of meaning that fame ultimately offers? But no, we get only a hint of this--a outline of a story that if any unknown writer dared submit would result in a rejection letter, with a possible encourgaging word. But we do get hot sex with a lesbian! I started to feel as if I was in the world of steamy romance novels. And of course this lesbian is no ordinary lesbian, no ordinary woman. Her name is Pegeen, she's a professor, and guess what? Simon knew her as a baby (Shades of Woody Allen again),being friends with her parents. Pageen is now a "lithe, full-breasted woman of forty, although with something of the child still in her..." The very end of the novel is clever, and again we see glimpes of that trickster, the master Roth. But overall the novel is disappointing, and I can only recommend it to Roth fans, who like me, enjoy seeing where he's at.
18 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Goes Down Easy 1 novembre 2009
Par Cary B. Barad - Publié sur
Format: Relié
You can still feel the Rothian magic in this modern tale of one man's agony and struggle to regain his reknowned reputation as a master of stagecraft. Debilitated by physical and emotional pain, the protagonist reveals his innermost torments as he comes across some unforgettable characters who will play decisive roles in his personal drama. Somewhere between a novella and a longish short story, this book is easily digested in one reading and leaves one with much to think about. Can't really ask for more than that.
41 internautes sur 53 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Roth's best --- and most disturbing -- novel in years 8 octobre 2009
Par Jesse Kornbluth - Publié sur
Format: Relié
I read the new Philip Roth novel the other day --- it's just 140 pages, with fewer words than usual per page, so you can knock it off in a few hours --- and I'm still disturbed.

This in an improvement over my reaction when I finished it.

I was shaky. Almost shaking.

I hope you will read 'The Humbling' --- I found it to be Roth's best work in years; sentence for sentence, paragraph for paragraph, he's still the most readable serious writer we've got --- but I have a problem saying much about it.

I didn't see the third and last section ("The Final Act") coming. I didn't want the ending to be what it was. Even afterward, I couldn't accept that this was how the story had to end. And I don't want to spoil it for you by describing it in any way.

I feel the same unease in discussing the second section ("The Transformation"), which also came as a surprise to me. In the interest of having it come as a surprise to you, I will speak no more of it here.

Which leaves me to convince you to read this masterful --- and, as I say, very disturbing --- book by discussing only the 43 pages of the first section ("Into Thin Air").

Well, okay. Simon Axler is one of the great stage actors of his generation. But now he's in his mid-60s, and he's adrift. This is how the book starts:

"He'd lost it. The impulse was spent. He'd never failed in the theater, everything he had done had been strong and successful, and then the terrible thing happened: he couldn't act. Going onstage became agony. Instead of the certainty that he was going to be wonderful, he knew he was going to fail. It happened three times in a row. And by the last time nobody was interested, nobody came. He couldn't get over to the audience. His talent was dead."

There's nothing more subjective than "talent". Maybe Axler's just tired. Maybe he just needs a rest.

He retreats to his house in the country, bringing a gloom thick as the poisonous cloud of a crop-duster. His wife flees. Now he's completely alone. And feeling suicidal. So he checks himself into a mental hospital for a month.

After, his harsh assessment is unchanged: "You're either free or you aren't...I'm not free anymore." Worse, he feels that his talent was a fluke, that all artistic spark is random: "This life's a fluke from start to finish."

He accepts that. Don't think of his as a career cut short, he says. Think how long it lasted.

Axler may be frozen, but Roth isn't --- he can pack a trilogy into a hundred pages. Things happen to Axler, and Axler makes things happen. He's not dead yet. Which means --- this is a Philip Roth book --- there will be a woman.

Alas, I cannot say more without spoiling the book's pleasure --- because it is pleasant to read a book this tight, this efficiently constructed; it's the exact opposite of Ian McEwan's disappointing 200-page shaggy marriage novel, 'On Chesil Beach'. But I can offer some clues.

One is Roth's interest in aging, which is not at all novelistic. In interviews, he's said that he's not looking to create either charmers or complainers; he's seeking reality.

Another hint. This is a book set in the country. In three sections --- three acts, if you will. It is, someone has suggested, a Chekhovian tragedy. Well, recall what Chekhov said about a gun that appears in the first act....

This is a long way from the summer romance of 'Goodbye, Columbus'. But Philip Roth was 26 when he published that. He's 76 now. He's outlived all of his rivals. He's our most prominent novelist. And over 30 books, he's learned how to disturb us --- and keep us reading. "The Humbling" is haunting proof.
9 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Disappointing from Such a Master 16 novembre 2009
Par Darcy Gue - Publié sur
Format: Format Kindle Achat vérifié
That one of our two or three best living literary fiction writers -- author of remarkable works like American Pastoral and Sabbath's Theater -- would let this novella be published is sad. Unless it is, as someone else wrote, a joke on us. By a master joker.

The Humbling centers on an aging (60's is that old?), hugely accomplished, long-acclaimed actor who's "lost his talent" as he repeatedly puts it, and is wrestling with suicidal thoughts.

But from the get go, this premise is difficult to accept, primarily because so little meat is put on its bones. How did Axler get here? We don't know. He apparently is concerned enough to voluntarily institutionalize himself for 27 days, and actually shows mild signs of improvement. But then, home again, how can this former lion of a man immediately return to his simplistic loop of "It's over....It's finished....I'm finished forever with happiness..etc. He goes on this way for months, a person we increasingly experience as a soulless stick figure with a mantra-mindedness that is, simply, unconvincing. Where is the psychological, philosophical and/or historical texture needed for our exploration of this dull, whining guy? Where are the vestiges of the man he was until a year earlier?

In comes the intriguing 40 year old woman, who literally appears on his doorstep. Axler had known her slightly as a girl through her parents, and had learned years before that she was a lesbian. When he asks her months after her unexpected knock at the door, "How come you drove over that afternoon?" she says "I wanted to see if you were with someone." Why him? We don't really know. We do learn enough about her to know why she's taking a new look at heterosexuality, but unfortunately the ramifications that unfold offer an embarrassing array of sexual stereotyping that interferes, again, with believability.

Axler lets Pegeen grasp for him and he does the same, thereby immediately feeling "happiness" again. The details of the relationship, particularly the re-making of the lesbian into a "feminine" woman who emerges "coquettishly from the dressing room smiling with delight," ironically recall his past theatrical orientation, as does the scene-making nature of their sex life. Well, okay, this works a bit on his side -- but on hers? Hmmm.

The short book follows with more loosely drawn pages of erotic grittiness and greed that smack more of pulp than Roth's famously and profoundly edgy sexual relationships (thinking back to Sabbath's Theater again, as an example). The offensively good, bad and ugly of homo- versus hetero- becomes the final wrecking ball of the book -- just to remind us that Roth wanted it to end as it began: making fun of us? Himself?

Please, Mr. Roth, tell us what you're really working on. We refuse to believe you have lost YOUR talent.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Uninteresting characters trudging through a predictable plot 2 mars 2010
Par Ethan M. Cordray - Publié sur
Format: Relié
This is the first Philip Roth novel I've read. I picked it as an entry point, since it was short and recent and I figured it would give me a taste of his style. I certainly hope that it isn't representative of his work.

In fiction, there's nothing wrong with having unlikable characters, as long as they are interesting. The main characters here aren't. Simon is a washed up actor who seems incapable of any emotion besides self-pity. Pegeen is a cipher, not having much in the way of emotions that the reader can understand, apparently looking for some sort of fulfillment through sexual novelty and never finding anything in particular. These are not necessarily bad *ideas* for characters, but Roth doesn't explore them or flesh them out into anything interesting. Everything he says about them can fit into two sentences like the ones I just wrote.

The plot is simple, tedious, and highly predictable. Simon loses his acting chops, the only thing he cares about, and becomes suicidal. Pegeen comes into his life and they have a lot of weird sex. Then she leaves, and he gets suicidal again, this time enough to succeed. The end. Roth telegraphs every motion well in advance, not making an effort to to depict the action as anything besides a fait accompli. Each particular scene is the same way, playing out predictably from first sentence to last. Again, such a simple and obvious plot might still work if the reader had any interest in the characters. But Roth never gives us any particular reason to care what happens to them.

The stylistic choices do little to help matters. I found myself skipping past the pages of explicit sex, not because they were pornographically titillating, but because they were at once tedious and disgusting. Roth doesn't seem to realize that boring characters having a boring conversation while wearing strap-on dildos are still boring characters having a boring conversation.

There were a few interesting parts of the book, mostly thanks to minor characters. Simon's agent comes for a visit and has as good a conversation as is possible between a real character and a lump of wood. There's a good short story that could be made from this scene. The young woman torn between helplessness and vengeance whom Simon meets in the sanitarium grabs the reader's feelings. I'd much rather read a novel about her.

But then, I'd prefer read any number of novels with characters I can care about, rather than this one about rough character concepts trudging through the outline of a plot.
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