I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.



“Behind the door of every happy, satisfied person,” wrote Chekhov in the story “Gooseberries”, “there ought to stand a man with a hammer whose constant knocking would be a reminder that there are unhappy people in the world, and that however happy he may be, life sooner or later will show him its claws and disaster will strike – illness, poverty, bereavements – and then no one will take any notice or listen to him, just as now he does not take any notice or listen to others.”

The reference is brought up by Philip Roth in an interview with Andrea Aguilar in Babelia, the literature supplement of El País (April 24th). Roth is speaking about his 2010 novel Nemesis and the three books on similar themes which preceded it, EverymanIndignation and The Humbling, books which sought “to treat in brief a certain fatalist preoccupation”. “In each one of these four books Nemesis awaits, a cataclysm.”

Asked if it has not been a great success for him as a novelist to have created various alter egos (such as Nathan Zuckerman or David Kepesh or even “Philip Roth”) that the public thinks exist and are not exactly fiction, he replies: “No. It has all just been a huge distraction. People find a way of talking about the books without talking about them; it’s gossip. It was all a great waste of time, like the Jewish question, but these are the things that make up our lives. There is no escape.”

Roth is notoriously pessimistic about the future of the novel, even of reading (proper reading), which he feels will not in the long run compete against the quick satisfactions of the screen. “I think always people will be reading them [novels],” he has told Tina Brown, “but it will be a small group of people. Maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range … To read a novel requires a certain amount of concentration, focus, devotion to the reading. If you read a novel in more than two weeks you don’t read the novel really. So I think that kind of concentration and focus and attentiveness is hard to come by – it’s hard to find huge numbers of people, large numbers of people, significant numbers of people, who have those qualities.”