Thursday 19 September 2019

Ian McEwan remembers Philip Roth as warm with ‘a chip of ice in his heart’

The American author died at the age of 85.

Philip Roth (Richard Drew/AP)
Philip Roth (Richard Drew/AP)

By Laura Harding, Press Association Senior Entertainment Correspondent

Novelist Ian McEwan has remembered Philip Roth as a “warm and generous man” who had “the classic chip of ice in his heart”.

The American author died on May 22 at the age of 85.

McEwan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Roth used to phone him up when he was taking a break from writing, and gave him extensive advice on his first manuscript.

On Chesil Beach Screening – London

He said: “He had the classic chip of ice in his heart and his writing, but he was a warm and generous man.

“I have never forgotten when I was about 27 and was living in a very poky flat in south London, I had given him the typed script – only ’cause he asked for it – of my first novel.

“He arrived and he got down on his hands and knees and spread the whole novel out on the sitting room floor and said ‘This first half is great, I love this, I love that, but this second half is terrible.

“‘You’ve really got to break free and go crazy with this now’ and I realised, it took me a while to understand, that what he was getting me to write was a Philip Roth novel and I was immensely flattered.

Obit Philip Roth

“I had published two little volumes of short stories, I wasn’t even near my 30th birthday, and he was this literary giant on all fours on my carpet, caring a great deal about what I was doing. It was a great moment.”

He added: “He was the hardest-working, amazingly devoted craftsman.

“My great luck was whenever Philip wanted to have a break from writing there was a few people he phoned up to see if they were free at short notice.

“Sometimes it was me, sometimes it was David Hare. We used to sometimes exchange notes about these extraordinary high-level, high-velocity moments with Philip into the evening.

“He was great company and, in company, one of the funniest men.”

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