Yes, John Updike had more talent, as Philip Roth is said to have granted. And if the rule in fiction is to show, not tell, even books as majestic as The Human Stain broke it wantonly. Still, miraculously few of the 900 pages in Blake Bailey’s new biography of Roth feel redundant or undeserved. The season’s most anticipated work of nonfiction sticks to the facts: it is hardly Bailey’s fault that the facts of his subject’s life are so abundant. Here is Roth going out of his way to succour Czech dissenters in the Cold War. Here is Roth being as crass about the Germans as any gin-dazed Englander.

And here, above all, is Roth in deep introspection, processing his real-world traumas through stories and ciphers. No artist captured better, earlier, the democratisation of therapy from Freud’s social class to the broad middle. The question is whether other ways of going at life came to be disdained into the bargain...

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